Why empathy is a must-have business strategy
25th Oct, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues of work-life balance, financial pressures and fears about job security. Thus, greater empathy within organizations as part of everyday culture can help address these problems.
- Empathy is best defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another person.
- While people are generally pretty well-attuned to their own feelings and emotions, getting into someone else's head can be a bit more difficult. The ability to feel empathy allows people to "walk a mile in another's shoes".
- An empathetic point of view is achieved by setting aside our own interests, current disposition, and relation to the agent and sympathizing with the effects of a person’s actions on those around him.
- It is both a cognitive and an emotional skill.
- The term empathy can be used in two ways-
- Firstly, it can mean a “thinking” response, or the ability to think about and describe how another being feels.
- Secondly, it can also refer to the ability to “feel” and to experience another person’s or animal’s feelings and circumstances.
Operationalization of Empathy: According to David Hume
- X notices that Y is injured and that he is in pain.
- A mental state similar to that of Y arises in X. He experiences the idea of pain, of Y.
- This feeling arises from a kind of association or due to psychological simulation of Y’s pain in X’s mind.
- This feeling of empathy creates a motivational drive in X to rush to Y’s help.
- The different ways of looking at empathy are
- Affective empathy: The ability to share the emotions of others. E.g.: People who feel scared or feel others’ pain strongly within themselves when seeing others scared or in pain.
- Cognitive empathy: The ability to understand the emotions of others. E.g.: A psychologist who understands the emotions of the client in a rational way, but does not necessarily share the emotions of the client in a visceral sense.
- Emotional Regulation: The ability to regulate one’s emotions. E.g.: surgeons need to control their emotions when operating on a patient.
Importance of Empathy in Business
- Fast-forward 18 months to a global pandemic that resulted in workforce burnout, and empathy is taking on a critical role in company culture.
- One of the main issues has involved the blurring of home and work life, leading to increased loneliness and social isolation.
- This lack of boundaries, greater financial pressure and fears about job security have resulted in a decline in mental health coupled with increased anxiety. In a global study by Qualtrics, two in five (41.6%) respondents said their mental health had declined since the outbreak of COVID-19, while 57.2% reported higher levels of anxiety.
- Empathy can play a vital role in addressing these issues. It helps create a sense of belonging, reinforcing the belief that employees’ perspectives matter and their voices are heard.
Benefits of being Empathic
- Building Social Networking: Empathy allows people to build social networks with others. By understanding what people think and feel, people are able to respond appropriately to social situations.
- Studies have shown that social interaction is important for both physical and mental health.
- Emotional Control: Empathy helps you learn to control your emotions.
- Emotional control is important because it allows you to control what you feel, even when there is a time of great stress, without frustration.
- Empathy Improves Moral Assistance: Not only are people more likely to engage in helpful behaviours when they feel empathy for other people, but other people are also more likely to help you when they feel empathy.
How you can implement empathy?
- As widely suggested people can inculcate empathy in to the organizations by following some methods such as:
- By communicating openly and effectively with clients and colleagues.
- Start by debunking some of the myths around empathy. Show that you are serious about empathy and realize it’s not just a gimmick.
- Use data to measure progress. Use polls to measure empathy levels in online meetings.
- Empathy is not about grandiose gestures; it’s about multiple, small-scale “empathy nudges”, which are low-cost, high-impact measures.
- Develop a creative vision. This is sometimes called “skill empathy” – the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to feel what they are feeling. Take time to mentally create an image of yourself developing an honest, dedicated interest in others.
- Create a culture where ethical behaviour is both demonstrated and promoted.
The world has changed and leaders need to adapt. Mental health, stress and burnout are now perceived as responsibilities of the organization. The failure to deploy empathy means less innovation, lower engagement and reduced loyalty, as well as diluting your diversity agenda. Thus it’s time to show our commitment to empathy; measure progress and implement a series of nudges that will stimulate an empathy revolution.