You may be surprised at all the ways empathy can be your secret superpower in the workplace.
I’ve worked with many project managers and leaders throughout my career. They’ve had different personalities and different leadership traits.
I’ve work with those who were admired and loved.
And I’ve worked with some who were self-absorbed jerks.
And I can tell you those who had the most success with their teams took time to understand the challenges and perspectives of the different team members, even in tough situations.
They exhibited empathy.
Empathy may be misunderstood, or even dismissed, but it’s a healthy trait that has far-reaching value in the workplace. And it can be your superpower that helps in many situations.
What Is Empathy?
Empathy can often be confused with sympathy, which is feeling concern or care for someone.
Empathy is the ability to understand what another person might be thinking or feeling. It’s the ability to understand their situation and their perspective.
And this can be a powerful tool. I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it a superpower.
Empathy is at the heart of emotional intelligence. This is a key trait of successful leaders. It’s even been shown that those with high emotional intelligence earn higher salaries.
Empathy can help you better support your team, build better products, and more effectively reach your customers.
All with heart.
Different Types of Empathy
You might think that empathy is pretty straightforward. However, there are different types of empathy you may experience:
1. Cognitive Empathy
This is the ability to understand how someone else might be feeling. From this, you might better understand what they’re thinking in a particular situation. You’re able to see things from their perspective.
2. Emotional Empathy
This is the ability to share someone else’s feelings.
For example, if you know someone is happy, you’re able to feel happy, too. And if you know someone is sad, you’re able to sense that and also feel a bit sad.
If you’ve ever been in a room full of babies, you know that if one of them starts to cry, inevitably, other babies will also cry. This is because our brains have mirror neurons that fire when we see other people doing something, just as if we were doing it ourselves.
3. Compassionate Empathy
This is when you understand and feel what others are experiencing, and you’re also compelled toward action.
It’s using both feeling and intellect to understand the situation, and move toward acting in the situation.
What to watch out for: if you’re prone to having too much emotional empathy, you may easily experience emotional exhaustion or burnout. If this is true for you, be aware of your feelings and manage your emotional energy.
15 Way to Use Empathy as a Superpower
These are many of the ways empathy can be a superpower in your work, and lead to better results.
You’re better able to understand how someone else might be feeling and what they might be thinking if you’re able to employ cognitive empathy.
This helps during negotiations. You can better put yourself in the other person’s shoes, and leverage that understanding in negotiations.
2. Building Rapport
You’re able to bond with others more naturally. This can be helpful when forming relationships, or even in job interviews.
- 5 Ways to Instantly Build Rapport for Increased Trust and Improved Relationships
- How to Build Rapport with Remote Team Members
If you’re coaching others, emotional empathy can help you connect more deeply. You can also understand their needs and guide conversations for deeper insight and learning.
4. Understanding your team
If a peer or team member shares feelings of frustration regarding a tough project, you’re better able to communicate appropriately and manage the situation.
Teams will experience varying levels of challenges. Empathy helps great leaders demonstrate understanding and handle situations with care and consideration.
Empathy helps leaders demonstrate understanding and respect for their teams.
Project managers and other leaders need to be able to navigate sometimes emotionally charged situations. Being able to act according to these challenges and needs will make you a trusted resource and team asset.
6. Build better products
Knowing how your users might feel in different situations can help you better identify how to help them. Being able to identify pain points helps you focus on what they need.
As a result, you can adjust your approach to better meet those needs.
Design thinking relies heavily on empathy to more deeply understand the customer needs and create better solutions to meet them.
7. Reaching your customers
When you understand your customer’s desires, concerns, and priorities, you can better speak their language.
And if you understand how to speak to your customers, you can craft more meaningful messages that resonate more fully.
Using your empathy superpower in this way can benefit both your customers and your products.
If you can understand how your customers feel, you can tap into that and speak to them in language that resonates.
8. Improved customer service
Understanding customer needs, and acting to help when possible, helps teams provide better service for their product customers. Your customers will appreciate you and have a better product experience.
9. Celebrating successes
Teams perform well when you take the time to celebrate wins and successes.
Empathy isn’t only about being in tune with difficult situations. Team members love to celebrate (most of them, anyway.) Be aware of when there’s an opportunity to highlight successes and bond over happy occasions, too.
10. Building trust
Team members know when you’re taking the time and effort to listen to their ideas and understand their perspectives. Also, respecting team members by being In tune with their feelings and reacting appropriately help build deeper trust.
11. Improving morale
When teams feel understood and appreciated, they perform better. This is especially true when things get tough. And when things get tough, it’s especially important to get great performance from your team.
12. Providing encouragement
Team members need encouragement when facing challenges.
It’s important to be aware when a team needs to work all weekend to roll out a big project or fix a bit problem. But it’s also important to provide appreciation and encouragement as they’re doing so.
13. Giving feedback
Giving feedback to team members can be a delicate exercise. The most valuable feedback can sometimes be hard to hear. Empathy can help you deliver tough news in a way that can be more easily received and digested.
You may not consider philanthropy in the context of your workplace. However, being a great corporate citizen can be good for your organization. And it’s good for the community and usually good for the team.
This can look different for different teams. Your team could volunteer for a day with Habitat for Humanity, or collect donations for a food bank or school, or some other type of charitable activity.
Whatever type of activity you choose, you’re helping others while building team bonds and usually making people feel good in the process. Yet another way your empathy superpower helps you and many others.
15. Respecting diversity
Teams are made up of people from many different backgrounds.
Understanding and respecting individuals and the groups they identify with helps them feel more understood and valued. For example, recognizing that team members may want to celebrate a cultural festival can be a fun activity for all.
Empathy is foundational for emotional intelligence. And this is a common and valuable trait among great leaders.
And empathy has many valuable applications in the workplace. It spans across team success, product success, and even could extend to the community through team volunteer activities.
Empathy can be your superpower that makes you better at all the work you do.