Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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Effective communication in the workplace

4.2 Empathy

Another skill linked closely to effective communication is empathy. Watch this short video from CivCom to find out more about using empathy at work.

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Transcript: Video 4

Empathy helps organisations thrive and it's a skill that we can build like a muscle. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, consider their perspective, and show that you care. These are practises that get results.
Researchers have found that empathy in the workplace improves productivity, collaboration, leadership, and customer satisfaction. Now, why is that? We tend to do great work when we feel great about work. Also, empathy makes us smarter. When we tune in and listen, we learn about each other and we learn from each other, our collective knowledge grows, which allows us to innovate and improve.
When empathy is lacking in the workplace, there's conflict. People are disengaged or they leave. So how can we cultivate kinder, happier, and high-performing workplaces? Here are three strategies. Number one, make empathy an organisational value. Our values guide our actions and they're what shapes an organisation's culture. Whether or not they're formally recognised, the values that people see communicated and demonstrated become the norm, which leads us to strategy number two.
Model empathy. There are so many ways to do this, and some of the smallest actions can have the biggest impact. When we show gratitude, people feel valued and appreciated. When we listen with the goal of understanding, people feel heard and respected. These are particularly helpful tools when there's disagreement. Because empathy cultivates more empathy, by modelling it, we invite it from others.
Number three, integrate empathy into routine business practises. For example, discuss the role of empathy in your workplace during orientation and training. This is a time when new employees are actively trying to understand norms and expectations. Share stories regularly about the people your profession helps. These stories remind us that our work has meaning, which motivates us to work even harder.
Empathy in the workplace has ripple effects that go far beyond the office walls. Think how many problems we could solve if we made a little more effort to understand each other and showed a little more kindness.
These are habits we can cultivate at work-- habits that boost our success and benefit everyone. So let's get to work.
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You might think that people are either empathetic or they are not, but research suggests that empathy is partly innate and partly learned, and something we can all improve on. Author and leading authority on building client relationships, Andrew Sobel (no date) recommends the following actions:

  • Challenge yourself – learning a new skill or competency will humble you and humility is a key enabler of empathy.
  • Get out of your usual environment, e.g. through travel to somewhere you wouldn’t normally go – it gives you a better appreciation for others.
  • Get feedback – ask for feedback about your relationship skills from family, friends and colleagues, and reflect on it.
  • Examine your biases – we all have hidden biases that interfere with our ability to listen and empathise, e.g. relating to age, or gender.
  • Ask better questions – aim to bring three or four thoughtful questions to every conversation.

It is interesting to note the recurring themes of feedback, listening and effective questioning, which you’ve already seen are key to effective communication.


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