Why empathy in the workplace is important?

Why is empathy in the workplace important? 

Empathy is THE skill for any business leader. Not many business leader or managers can push a team or organisation forward without it but it quiet often seems unclear as to what empathy is and is often confused for sympathy which is not the same. 

Sympathy is feeling pity or sorry for someone and then you kind of stuck in that emotion and it gets awkward for everyone. Empathy is THE skill to feel into the other person’s current perception and experience of reality and maneuver the conversation forward to the goal. 

Empathy also comes from the German word EINFUELUNG which translates into feeling in.

There are 4 general types of empathy so let’s see how they apply. 

  1. Cognitive empathy
  2. Emotional Empaty
  3. Compassionate Empathy
  4. Cruel Empathy

Cognitive empathy:

Is largely the conscious and aware understanding of the other persons feelings and thoughts. The awareness of the mental space they occupy. This is very handy for any leader to mentally grasp what is going on within their staff…or client. Body language eye movements tone and breathing rate is a key indicator here to show you the emotional lay of the land the other person occupies.

Emotional empathy:

Compared to the cognitive empathy this is a more subjective and unconscious response. It is our automatic drive to respond appropriately to situations. Let’s say I walk full speed into the sharp edge of a table that you are sitting on. Immediately you will have a emotional body response to that. Mostly in a very caring way. …unless you are German in which case you will probably feel what is called Shadensfreude which is the German description of making light of some as misfortune by laughing about it. So German…
But again here the aim is not to ridicule but to uplift someone’s spirit and see the lighter side and to help them to get over the lain by laughing along.
Quiet often emotional empathy is seen as a hindrance in business since you can’t really be expected to take on everyone’s misfortune and be supportive because where would that get you in business? If that is your thinking then you have bought into the victim mentally of empathy and that is not really empathy. Emotional empathy is the understanding that you are allowed to feel for others and in fact you are encouraged to understand what is alive in the other person and to do so unattached from outcome. 

Compassionate Empathy: 

Is probably the most common form of empathy. It combines the emotional empathy by feeling what’s alive in the pother person and cognitively attempting to help the person to overcome their struggle and get their need met or understand reality.

By using what we call limbic language to describe or reflect what is alive emotionally and well as triggering a thinking process that generates vision or versions of possible solutions. For example if you find yourself in a position where you are forced to let someone go due to may be performance issues you can use emotional empathy to better understand how this might feel for the person and link it to your cognitive empathy to find the right words and paint the right picture to lead the other person through the news and set them down gently. After all we are all just people and deserve respect.

Cruel empathy: 

Cruel empathy is my favorite type of empathy because it breeds great results if done right. Cruel empathy at first sight does not resemble any of the other forms of empathy. And seems to even aim in the opposite direction altogether. 
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you are the manager and want your staff member or team to break through the performance ceiling and you know it will be a hard on your team. You push your people with long hours and nearly impossible tasks that seem far out of reach and cruel of you to even ask or demand this performance but you keep pushing them up that impossible hill.

Once the goal is achieved by your team and the long hours and lack of sleep have paid off for everyone in the way of more cash or the feeling of achievement and success they will have grown and who will they thank? You that’s right.

So even it appears cruel at times the end goal is a positive one and justifies the harsher means and language to lead people to their success. Just like the fitness trainer who will push you beyond your limits and work you so hard you go beyond your limits and start seeing stars… a friend of mine calls it meeting the wizard. I like it because success does not magically appear you need to make the magic happen by pushing harder and sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind.

All 4 pathways of empathy have their place and are best played together as needed to get the needs met internally as well as externally. Don’t mistake kindness for weakness either. Being emotionally available and aware makes you the strongest person around. 

Try these 4 ways of empathy and see how you go.