How valued our people feel is a core tenet of effective teams, positive cultures and successful workplaces. This is especially hard when times are tough or we are in a time of transition. (It feels like we’ve all been in this space for a long time!!) 

To be seen, heard and valued is no longer a nice to have in your workplace – it’s a must-have. 

Empathy is a much-needed element to feel connected and heard.  Empathy is the ability to feel what the other person is feeling, easy right?  

To be empathic and sit with another person in their emotions is tricky. What is empathy and how can we show it?

Theresa Wiseman, a nursing scholar, noted four attributes of empathy:

1.         Perspective taking

2.         Stay out of judgment

3.         Recognise emotions

4.         Communicating our understanding

As they stand individually, each element is straightforward. Putting them all together is more challenging.

Let’s break it down:

Perspective taking. Can I recognise my colleague’s perspective as their truth? Can I value and respect this perspective even though it may be different from my own? 

Staying out of judgment. Don’t make comments that suggest our colleagues’ emotions, feelings or how they acted was wrong or invalid. This is hard when it is often our first response!! 

Judgement of another person’s situation discounts the experience and is an attempt to protect ourselves from the pain of the situation.

Recognising the emotion. This involves reflecting on your own experience and doing the best you can to identify the feeling(s) your colleagues could be feeling. 

It’s perfectly ok to ask if you are not sure. Ie “Sounds like you are feeling upset.” We need to put ourselves aside and focus on our colleague in this moment.

Communicating emotion. This refers to being clear that you understand their emotion and validating your colleague. Rather than saying, “At least…” or “It could be worse…” try, “I’ve been there, and that hurts,” or  “It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.”

In the words of the legend that is Brene Brown: “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice” 

We can strengthen empathy with practice. You don’t have to do this alone. Get The Gen offers lots of authentic, straight-talking learning and development activities that promote the understanding and application of empathy in the workplace.