How to Implement Empathy Training in the Workplace
Empathy training in the workplace can lead to powerful results for your team and customers. What do we mean by empathy? Empathy is the ability to understand other people and walk a mile in their shoes, as well as the ability to put that understanding into intentional practice through care, concern, active listening, and leaving your assumptions at the door.
In the past, this skill was often overlooked by workplaces. But isn’t understanding the needs and wants of your customers, clients, and stakeholders at the core of succeeding as a business? If you are unable to understand your customer’s feelings, needs, and desires, how can you expect to serve them effectively?
Continue reading to learn how to improve empathy at work using various forms of empathy training.
Benefits of Empathy in the Workplace
The benefits of empathy are far-reaching for individuals, businesses, and the people your business serves.
By leading with empathy, you can strive to meet your customer’s needs throughout the entire customer journey, including acknowledging what they’ve been through in the past, any pain points they might be facing currently, and their dreams and desires for the future.
But the power of empathy doesn’t stop there. Building your empathy skills as a team increases trust across your organization, which means your team can work efficiently and effectively, anticipating each other's needs. Empathy helps team members see beyond their own tendencies and communication preferences to meet each other halfway. This trust also leads to faster, more effective decision making—another win for productivity.
A team that leads with empathy will build long-lasting bonds. When the people around you are kind, good listeners, and always aiming to understand your perspective, you’ll feel at ease. Comfortable teams are more willing to participate in all aspects of the business and speak freely about new ideas, which leads to increased creativity and innovation.
Learn more about the power of this important skill and why it’s one of today’s most sought-after attributes. In a previous article, we discussed the importance of empathy in the workplace, including empathy in the workplace examples for teams, your clients, and your community: Cultivating Empathy in the Workplace—Today’s #1 Skill.
The Data Around Empathy in the Workplace
Not convinced? The data says it all.
A recent report from Catalyst, a global nonprofit helping to build workplaces that work for women, highlighted the data-baked power of empathy in the workplace. The survey collected data from a diverse group of 889 US employees.
For example, 76% of people surveyed who reported highly empathic leaders said they were often or always engaged. In comparison, only 32% of people surveyed who reported less empathic leaders said they were often or always engaged.
The report is filled with valuable insights, including key findings that conclude: “Empathy boosts productivity. Employees with empathic managers and leaders are more innovative and engaged in their work than are employees with less empathic managers and leaders.”
Overall, the findings indicate that empathy from leaders in an organization boosts innovation and engagement, decreases employee burnout, supports work/life balance, fosters inclusive employee experiences, and predicts lower intent to leave the organization.
📚 Learn more from the report: The Power of Empathy in Times of Crisis and Beyond (Report).
What is Empathy Training?
While the idea of empathy—understanding someone else—is a simple enough concept, in practice, it becomes more difficult, especially when that practice is occurring in a workplace. How do you improve your own empathy skills, and how do you replicate that on a larger scale across an organization?
Empathy training encompasses a wide range of best practices, learning, listening, and skill building. From simple everyday practices to large-scale company-wide training sessions and courses, empathy training requires complete cross company buy-in. The pursuit of workplace empathy must be completely supported by leadership and management. At the same time, the rest of the team must understand the importance and value of empathy. Skill building will only work if each individual aims to actively improve their empathy skills.
Next, we’ll share strategies for implementing empathy training across your organization.
How to Implement
1. Build Empathy Into Your Brand and Company Values
Want empathy to play a major role in your business? Build it into your company values.
As a part of your company values, the importance of empathy becomes front and center for each and every team member. Your values are something you live and breathe as a company, and they help guide your decision making. Ensuring empathy is a part of your decision making process will make it easier to justify investing in empathy training of all shapes and sizes. From leadership training to team building to company-wide empathy courses, it all fits right in line with your company values.
And speaking of company values, do you know what yours are? Does your entire team know what your company values are? Are they clearly displayed somewhere within your organization or available online for remote teams?
2. Choose Empathy-Driven Team Building
Team building opportunities that focus on empathy are a lightweight and fun form of empathy training. Team building is an essential part of establishing long-lasting bonds and trust across your team.
When choosing potential activities, look for opportunities that directly or indirectly focus on empathy. Completing personality assessments and reviewing your results as a team is a great way to help team members see the value in each other’s differences. Instead of communicating in the way you naturally communicate, consider how you can better tailor your communication style to the person you are working with based on their natural preferences.
Other forms of trust exercises and storytelling are also great ways to promote and build empathy. Sometimes all it takes to see someone else’s perspective is getting to know them better.
3. Hone Decision Making: Consider All Who Are Affected
Live and breathe empathy throughout your decision making process. No matter what decision you are making as an individual, team, or company, consider absolutely everyone affected by it.
It’s important to understand that decisions have consequences both large and small, and those consequences can often negatively impact others without us realizing it. When you make a decision, consider everyone involved. By making that decision, are you negatively impacting someone else, another group, your community, or the planet?
For example, by choosing to purchase cheaper parts or products from a global supplier, you are negatively impacting the owners of local businesses within your community. On a smaller scale, if you choose to binge watch a television show instead of completing your work on time, how does that impact the other members of your team? How do your decisions impact your manager who also needs to report to a boss?
Businesses have a responsibility to stakeholders, and that means doing all that you can to think about how your decisions affect them. Go beyond the immediate future to consider how a potential decision could affect other human beings, your community, and the environment long term.
💡 Learn how to make better decisions—our guide includes key design thinking strategies and an overview of the most effective decision making tools.
4. Gather Feedback Early and Often
Gathering feedback early and often keeps you on the pulse of people‘s needs. From a customer perspective, gathering feedback helps you understand what they are looking for from your products and services, as well as other pain points they may be facing. This can result in building future products and services tailored to meet their needs or continuing to improve your customer experience.
The sooner you gather feedback, the better you can support your customers' needs. And don’t stop once your product or service is established—continue to learn from your customers so that you can continually improve. When you can’t reach your customers directly, try using empathy maps alongside your customer personas. This tool helps you dig into your user’s personal experiences, including their thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.
On the inside of your organization, gathering feedback is just as important. By gathering feedback, you show each and every employee that their opinion matters and that they are a valued member of the team.
Feedback allows you to improve as individuals and as an organization. Ensure feedback is consistent and comes from all directions. Feedback shouldn’t just be something managers pass on during sporadic performance reviews—it’s something that must be gathered consistently from each team member. Managers and team leaders can benefit from receiving feedback just as much as direct reports can. It’s all part of a continuous improvement mindset that leads to happier, healthier, more understanding teams.
When done consistently and effectively, feedback allows you to hear someone else’s concerns and see other perspectives beyond your own.
💡 Download our free Feedback Grid Worksheet.
5. Invest in Human-Centred Design Training
Lastly, let’s talk about human-centred design training.
Human-centred design is a methodology that prioritizes people by using design techniques to better understand people’s needs. It’s a collaborative, iterative, and empathy-driven approach to solving complex problems.
No matter your industry or role, your organization’s ultimate goal is to solve a need and help people. Human-centred design is all about finding the best way to do that. Instead of finding solutions that should work, human-centred design empowers your organization to find solutions that will work for all stakeholders.
We are hosting a series of webinars specifically focused on Empathy in Action. Learn more and register for our next date!
Learn more: Why Every Team Needs Human-Centred Design Training.
Overlap’s Creative Problem Solving School brings empathy-driven training to individuals, teams, and organizations. Our courses help people and groups build critical empathy skills, including how to ask better questions, how to lose your assumptions, how to make decisions that consider everyone involved, and how to test and gather feedback so that you can design your products and services around the needs of your customers.
Each course includes practical and engaging materials that will leave you thinking about your impact on those around you and well-equipped to solve whatever complex problems come your way.
Learn how to work better together, understand your customers, and solve complex challenges with our wide range of courses. New to design thinking? We recommend starting with our Intro to Human-Centred Design (101) course. You can further your education and team building with our Exploring Complex Problems (201) and Making Better Decisions (203) courses.