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Four simple ideas on enhancing empathy

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

Empathy helps us to tear down destructive work environments and replace toxic work environments with healthy relationships so work becomes a happy place. Healthy relationships take place when we take the time to understand another, and learn about individuals at work. Through the practice of empathy everyone in the team feels safe to say how they feel and safe to engage with others. When we practice empathy, everyone feels heard and that they matter and so does their unique perspective.

What is empathy?

Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another person by understanding their perspective from their point of view, understanding how they are feeling and why they are feeling that way, and seeing the world through their eyes. When we take empathy to another level by taking action, or by advocating for another or by showing compassion we are demonstrating compassionate empathy. Our ability to understand another is cognitive empathy and our ability to understand their emotions is emotional empathy. Emotional empathy differs to sympathy, because with sympathy we feel the same way as another. Whereas with emotional empathy we objectively understand how another person is feeling and why they are feeling a particular way.

Why the practice of empathy is important

The practice of empathy helps us to practice diversity and inclusion in the workplace and to improve innovative outcomes. Impactful innovation requires lots of different perspectives, and various levels of creativity and imagination. When we practice innovation, we seek divergent views from people and use empathy maps to share the various perspectives so that people understand how others are thinking and feeling. Practicing empathy helps teams move happier and faster through to outcomes. Engagement rates significantly rise when team members feel their team leader is empathetic. When team members feel safe that are likely to be more innovative at work. In decision making, empathy fosters more empathy, increases cooperation among people, and improves the quality of decision making.

Four simple actions to enhance empathy in yourself and in your team

There are a number of simple actions you can undertake on a regular basis to enhance empathy within yourself and your team. Most of us are already practicing learning how to improve our listening skills, and if you’re not, then why not start there. Alternatively, we provide you with a suggestions on actions you can undertake in your workplace or at home to improve empathy in yourself and with others.

There are four action suggestions and within each a few different ideas on ways that you can enhance empathy in yourself or across your team. The four different action suggestions are:

  1. check-in

  2. engage in listening circles

  3. complete acts of kindness

  4. improve how you read body language

The first action step you can take is to check-in


Having simple check-ins where you check with another or with your team on how they are feeling and going. Doing this on a regular basis will help people to feel safe to say how they are really feeling and help you to learn how to respond. Friday is a good day to check in with your team to gauge how they are thinking and feeling. There are a number of ways you can check in with your team or individuals you work with to demonstrate empathy. Start by asking an open-ended question. Have the attitude of being curious to hear the answer. Demonstrate empathy by being curious about them and how things are going for them. To help you demonstrate empathy by checking in with your team, we have four suggested questions you could ask.

  1. Which tasks are you doing the fastest?

  2. Which tasks took you more time than expected?

  3. What is your goal for next week?

  4. What is your main concern right now?

The second action step you can take is to engage in listening circles

Engage in listening circles

With roots in indigenous cultures around the world, listening circles provide an opportunity to hear every voice, and an opportunity for every person to practice empathetic listening. In a listening circle, a talking stick can help with the facilitation of a listening circle, particularly in the beginning. It takes time to learn how to listen. A talking stick can help. The rules for engagement are that no one speaks unless they have the stick. Everyone listens to the person holding the talking stick. Listening circles are a great tool to implement in a workplace where there is distrust and conflict. Engaging in regular listening circles helps us to see others in a different light.

  1. Decide where and when the listening circle will take place

  2. Invite participants to the listening circle explaining the benefits

  3. Conduct the listening circle by being open, sharing guidelines and by introducing the questions or discussion themes for the listening activity

  4. Close the listening circle by debriefing and asking each person to share one thing they have learnt from the listening circle.

The third action step you can take is to complete acts of kindness

Complete acts of kindness

A wonderful way to lead with empathy is to challenge your team to complete acts of kindness. Have a kindness idea meeting to discuss ways in which the team would like to engage in kindness in the workplace. Four ideas to get you started including:

  1. Find and share articles and quotes on kindness

  2. Write a random kindness email to a work colleague, one each week

  3. Engage in one kindness day per month, where everyone works together to do something Examples include cleaning up an area at work or in the community, volunteering with needy people, creating care packages to send to random strangers

  4. Create a kindness calendar with your team and select one month each year where everyone in the team commits to doing the kindness activity on the calendar that month.

The fourth action step you can take is to improve your body language reading skills

Improve how you read or use body language

A large part of understanding someone is listening to them and their body language. When we are trying to understand another person through their words and emotions, reading body language helps us to understand with or without words. We often use body language unconsciously in trying to understand another person, learning to read body language consciously is powerful in helping us to enhance how we understand others. We can help another person feel more comfortable in sharing with us when we are purposeful about our own body language. Here are four suggestions.

  1. Open body language - when listening empathetically to another use open body language, keep your limbs uncrossed and away from your torso. This helps the other person to see that we are showing vulnerability, and that we are open and ready to listen to them.

  2. Lean forward - when we lean forward to hear another person, this tells them we are interested in what they have to say. They are more likely to open up to us when we lean forward.

  3. Tilt your head – when we tilt our head to listen, we are showing another person that we are friendly. People are more likely to feel comfortable with sharing with a friendly person.

  4. Eyebrow flash – when we quickly raise and lower our eyebrows in an eyebrow flash, we are demonstrating to another person that we are interested in them and happy to be with them.

Concluding remarks on empathy

We can all do something to enhance our own empathy capabilities in the workplace with a goal of building stronger workplace relationships. Empathy helps to build trust between people, build a diverse and inclusive workplace where innovation, creativity, engagement, retention thrive in a happy work environment.

We can choose whether we reduce or enhance our own empathy capabilities. When we lead with empathy, we intentionally look at ways to enhance our own empathy capabilities, as well as the empathy capabilities within our team.


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