Empathy in the Workplace

Many of us have worked with people who have reached a certain point in their careers because of their excellent technical abilities – but they don't get along with colleagues, because they're less accomplished in their people skills. People skills should not be overlooked. They can be as important as technical expertise, and possessing poor people skills could potentially hinder career progression.

Those with poor people skills can often find themselves in the middle of unnecessary conflict. This can be exhausting and stressful, and it can even destroy morale within a team.

So how can we improve our people skills?

A great place to start is by developing the ability to empathise with others.

What is empathy?

Empathy is simply about recognising the emotions and feelings of others and being able to ‘put yourself in their shoes’.

Remind yourself that the world is full of other people, of which you are only one. You can't escape their influence on your life. It's better to accept this, and to decide to build relationships and understanding, rather than try to stand alone all the time.

Try to see things from the other person's point of view and put your thoughts to one side for a moment. You will soon realise that most people aren't being unreasonable for the sake of it – they’re just reacting to a situation with the knowledge they have. Once you understand why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Acknowledging someone else’s viewpoint does not have to mean agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions.

Consider your attitude. What are you more concerned with - getting your own way or ‘winning’? Or finding positive solutions? Often it can be more beneficial to put aside any personal agendas and focus on what is best for the team as a whole.

When in conversation with someone, concentrate solely on the person speaking and listen to the entire message that the they are trying to communicate. Don’t just focus on the bits that you want to hear.

Listen with your eyes and ears - consider the tone in which something is said and the other person’s body language. If you sense that the person is not communicating something important, then ask them about this. A direct - but not rude - approach can often be very effective.

When you show an interest in others you will appear much more caring and approachable. To be willing and able to see the world from a variety of perspectives, is an invaluable skill to have. It can be used in many situations, both in the workplace and personally.

Respond encouragingly to others and remember to be flexible where you can. When you strive to understand other people, they will, in turn, understand you better. This helps to build stronger, collaborative relationships and fosters teamwork.

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