By Elle Balchin, Rehabilitation Consultant – OT
Researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, combined with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. It’s this perspective taking that sets empathy apart from sympathy – where you might just feel bad for the position the other person is in rather than taking steps to truly understand their experience.
Practicing empathy requires us to focus on what we have in common with others, and genuinely connect to them through shared experience. While you may never have been through the specific loss they have or grief they are experiencing, you can connect to your own experience that you have personally felt, and understand from their perspective.
This ability to share understanding and express empathy towards others is one of the most authentic and valuable ways to – and this can be applied to build better connections in the workplace too. When you see a staff member or client feeling a certain way, or coming across as aggressive or hurtful, instead of immediately feeling upset and reacting, it is helpful to first reflect on our shared humanity. By removing yourself from the situation, considering this person’s feelings and letting yourself feel what they feel, you can start to understand them and be able to provide compassion for them, and move forward into action accordingly.
Benefits of practicing empathy at work:
- Empathetic managers have employees who take less sick days and report greater happiness and satisfaction with work. Results in better productivity and boosts the bottom line!
- Reduces bullying – reduces aggression towards others and increases kindness and inclusivity.
- Fundamental to reducing conflicts.
- Increases understanding of others, deepens connections, and increases satisfaction with relationships.
- Increases resilience and ability to handle crises as they present.
A great way to incorporate empathy into and practice is to observe some of the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing and consider “if I am feeling this way, others probably feel this way too”.