Empathy in the workplace is a skill more and more people look to develop and apply. This skill is shown to build effective leadership, drive performance, and improve the customer experience. Empathy is, as MindTools explains, simply to “put yourself in another person’s shoes.” It sounds relatively easy, however many people struggle to be empathetic. As a result, there is an increase in empathy training across professions.
Richard Wellins, the senior vice president for Development Dimensions International, estimates that 20 percent of employers offer this sort of training as part of their management development initiatives. He expects that number to double in the next ten years.
LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, Cisco Systems, and Ford Motor Company are among many organizations conducting employee empathy training.
A lack of empathy is a cause for concern for many people. This concern is not exclusive to corporations and business organizations. Sesame Workshop, the educational nonprofit behind Sesame Street, surveyed 2,000 parents and 500 teachers in its latest Kindness Survey. The survey’s results showed an increasing concern from parents and educators over the lack of empathy. CEO of Sesame Workshop, Jeffrey D. Dunn, stated to NPR:
“We … were concerned what the long-term impact of that would be on children and society as children grow older. This survey confirms our concerns. It is time to have a national conversation about kindness.”
The survey revealed that 86 percent of teachers and 70 percent of parents worry often that the world is an unkind place for children. People are concerned about empathy, but what about empathy and professionals?
Empathy in the Workplace
Over the last decade, empathy training in the workplace has significantly increased. About 20 percent of employers in the US offer empathy training. A few of these recognizable employers include LinkedIn, Tesla Motors, Cisco Systems, and Ford Motor Company.
Why is there a sudden increase in empathy training? Development Dimensions International’s research shows that empathy tops the list as the most critical driver of overall performance. What’s more, the top 10 most empathetic companies on Harvard Business Review’s Global Empathy Index generate 50 percent more earnings than those ranking at the bottom. The Global Empathy Index ranked the top 10 most empathetic companies as:
- John Lewis Partnership
- Direct Line
- Boots UK
Empathy and the Customer Experience
Hearing and listening are two different actions.
While empathy is correlated to driving performance, it is also shown to increase customer satisfaction. The same Harvard Business Review research reports the effects of empathy training at Telefonica Germany. Telefonica Germany implemented an empathy training program. Within 6 weeks of the program’s start, customer satisfaction increased by 6 percent.
Empathy allows people to see others’ perspective. KPMG Nunwood, an international customer experience consultancy, develops empathy in their customer experience design. Michael Hoole, of KPMG Nunwood, explains that empathy in customer experience design comes down to “pre-empting service user’s needs and desires and taking care of them before they reach a potential ‘pain point’ in their customer journey.”
3 Tips in Training for Empathy
- Try Mindfulness Training — Mindfulness training is one way to develop empathy. This type of training is shown to reinforce behavior that prevents stress at its root cause. Additionally, mindfulness training can also improve participants’ memory, focus, and self-control
- Learn to Listen — Good listeners are hard to come by. Hearing and listening are two different actions. Some people have a tendency to hear what they want to hear, or only listen to part of the conversation. Those who do the latter are waiting to interject with their conclusion or response. Some ways to improve listening skills are through body language training, active listening exercises, and learning follow up questions.
- Change Perspective — Before coming to conclusions, take the other person’s view into perspective. This is sometimes harder to do, especially if trainees are stubborn. Taking another person’s point of view requires putting your own emotions, history, and feelings to the side.