Why Is Empathy Important For Communication?
People often confuse empathy with sympathy, but the two are distinct qualities. While sympathy refers to a concern you may feel for someone; empathy means that you understand how someone is feeling about and perceiving the world around them.
Both are necessary characteristics for a team to practice, but empathy is especially critical because it can significantly improve your communication and relationships. As a result, your team will experience better collaboration and satisfaction.
Let’s talk about the importance of empathy in more detail and how to master this soft skill.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy can be broken down into three different qualities: seeing through another person’s perspective, understanding a different point of view, and recognizing others’ emotions.
Seeing From Someone Else’s Perspective
Nothing can help you learn empathy faster than some good old-fashioned perspective-taking. Most of us know the phrase, “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.” Essentially, this idea suggests examining your own emotions and attitudes and keeping your mind open to other experiences and viewpoints.
If you’re only willing to emphasize your assumptions and preconceived notions, there won’t be a lot of room for empathy. You don’t have to agree with a person to acknowledge they have a valid belief.
All you have to do is understand why they think what they think. When someone needs empathy, it’s not the time for debating or criticizing but rather for listening and demonstrating respect.
If you listen to your colleague and still fail to see things from their perspective, ask them to further explain their position. Invite them to tell you how they would respond to the issue or solve the problem. Just make sure you are asking in sincerity and not coming across as condescending. Keep in mind that not everyone is ready to share or will want to — it’s just as important to respect this point of view too.
Understanding Someone – Even When You Disagree
You can validate a coworker despite not agreeing with their thoughts or beliefs. Learning that quality can go a long way in making you a valuable team member who others want to work with.
The next time you’re talking to someone who shares an opinion or thought radically different from your own, fight the temptation to judge them right off the bat and pay attention to what they’re saying. Try to drown out distractions so that you can listen to them mindfully, make eye contact, and make sure your body language shows that you are interested in their thoughts.
For an extra boost of assistance in the virtual office, software like Poised can inform you about your speaking and listening ratio in real-time. This can help keep the balance of communication even and appropriate to every type of meeting.
Remember that no innovative, efficient team operates without disagreement. Diversity of thought is critical to the success of any team, and you must constantly try to understand others’ points of view to make the most of it.
Awareness of the Emotions of Others
If you hope to empathize with others, you must be able to recognize people’s emotions — that goes for both negative and positive emotions.
You will never be able to control someone else’s emotions, but learning how to acknowledge them and respond appropriately will help you avoid unresolved issues that eventually damage team relationships and performance.
Make Time for Team Members
The only way to become more aware of your employees’ or colleagues’ emotions is to make time to connect with them. Try to develop relationships with people before they are dealing with a problem, and watch how they respond as their circumstances change.
Treating your officemates like human beings instead of just cogs in the machine is a hallmark of an empathetic person. This can be an excellent way to instill confidence and show that you value your team members as well.
Actively Learn the Signs
Look out for signs of negative employee emotions like anxiety, stress, frustration, humiliation, and resentment. If you’re a leader or manager, consider sending out employee satisfaction surveys to gauge the overall happiness of your team members.
You might be surprised by how quickly you can identify negative emotions when reviewing each employee’s answers.
Once you start becoming more sensitive to others’ emotional states, find ways to manage them. Sharing your own emotions and challenges with a struggling coworker can show vulnerability. When you discuss your own feelings, you help the other person feel that they aren’t alone.
Moreover, listen to the person more than you talk. Make it clear that they can vent their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment.
This will do two things:
- Make the person feel heard, valued, and validated.
- Establish yourself as a dependable, understanding team member.
As you seek to grow empathetic communication skills, remember to leave room for mistakes. None of us will ever navigate every obstacle perfectly, especially when there are high emotions involved.
If you are trying to show empathy to someone and they don’t receive it well, be patient and gracious instead of getting offended. Often, someone’s pain leads them to act in ways out of character.
The Types of Empathy
Empathy is an essential component of emotional intelligence. It can be divided into three types or stages, which we will explain below.
Cognitive empathy is centered on thought, understanding, and intellect. When you engage in perspective-taking, you’re using cognitive empathy. This stage allows you to comprehend diverse viewpoints and is ideal for virtual meetings.
Cognitive empathy doesn’t go any further than the intellect. It’s perhaps the closest stage to sympathy when you consider that understanding when someone is sad is not the same as sharing in that person’s pain. If you need to recognize what a team member is thinking or incorporate more tact in your interactions, this is the best type of empathy for that scenario.
Just know that people who respond with cognitive empathy can sometimes come across as being detached or cold. This approach is best used in situations where ideas and opinions are at the forefront rather than emotions. It can also be useful for leaders who want to gauge their employees’ feelings on a given day so that they can determine the best leadership style to encourage engagement.
The next stage of empathy is known as emotional or “affective empathy.” People who are emotionally empathetic with someone can share feelings with that person. Emotional empathy often feels like you “catch” the person’s emotions, as if they were contagious. It involves feelings and physical sensations, but it also stimulates the mirror neurons in your brain.
Not surprisingly, this type of empathy allows you to understand people on a deeper level than cognitive empathy. It can help you develop authentic rapport with others. Emotional empathy is an essential quality in close interpersonal relationships but also benefits leaders, coaches, and managers.
There are drawbacks to practicing too much emotional empathy. Not only can it be inappropriate in certain situations, but it can quickly overwhelm you. Diving too deep into someone else’s pain, personal life, or issues can compromise your own emotions and well-being. If the person you are empathetic toward feels hopeless in resolving their problem, it can be especially draining on your emotions.
Another term for such overwhelm is “generosity burnout,” which you can avoid by intentionally taking breaks from emotional empathy. This doesn’t mean that you ignore other people’s feelings as you break.
It just means guarding your emotions in specific scenarios and self-imposing boundaries. Doing so periodically can help you cope in the times you do practice emotional empathy.
Developing emotional empathy can work to the advantage of all team members, especially those in leadership roles. But if you really want to establish trust, honesty, and openness in your team, you must put your feelings into action. Of the three different types of empathy, compassionate empathy is the most involved because it inspires you to proactively help another person.
A compassionate, empathetic leader or employee not only can recognize and share the pain of another individual. Then, they will try to help reduce the pain through practical means.
Say, for instance, that a team member gets nervous during a presentation, rambles, and fails to make all their points. After the meeting, they are upset and anxious, second-guessing their abilities and value as a member of the team.
Emotional empathy may inspire you to pull the person aside, share a story of a similar experience you had in the past, and reaffirm their value. Compassionate empathy might drive you to carve out time for helping them analyze their mistakes and prepare for better performance on their next presentation.
How Empathy Improves Your Communication at Work
Any level of empathy can benefit your team’s communication with each other and with clients and partners.
Here are a few of the most significant benefits of empathy:
Connecting With Your Coworkers
If you make a point to listen to your coworkers and open your mind to different perspectives and ideas, it will naturally lead to better morale, collaboration, and rapport. Sharing others’ emotions instead of judging them can create an even deeper connection.
If you take action to help team members through their problems, you can develop meaningful relationships that establish you as an empathetic and impactful leader.
As you and your team learn to work and communicate with empathy, look to communication coaching software that can further improve your communication during meetings. Poised is helping many teams boost productivity and engagement in virtual environments.
Handling Disagreements Compassionately
Most disagreements can be resolved without conflict. Even practicing empathy at a cognitive level can keep peace and foster innovation within your team, but feeling another person’s pain and taking steps to help them turn disagreements into an opportunity for deeper relationships.
Becoming a Team Player
Finally, teams are only strong when every member is committed to the team’s (and organization’s) success. By working toward becoming a more empathetic leader or employee, you can show your team where your priorities lie. Empathetic communication will eventually help boost teamwork, reaching new morale and productivity levels.
How To Communicate Effectively
All three types of empathy play a critical role in workplace communication. Whether you are a business owner, manager, or employee, you could become a better communicator by valuing the perspectives and emotions of others. You not only will build rapport with your team members but also learn valuable life and leadership skills along the way.