“People do business with people. Building authentic connections is what makes people want to follow you.” — Dr. Carole Robin, author of Connect.
Today’s workplace is rife with challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of how people work and live. In the midst of all the chaos, one important element that may have fallen by the wayside is empathy for our colleagues.
Sure, we’re caught up in how our lives have changed. But everyone else’s has, too. And we could all use some support right now.
Empathy is critical for maintaining a positive work environment. It helps people feel seen and understood during one of the most difficult times we have all been through collectively.
How can you be a more empathetic coworker in the new year — and contribute to a better environment for everyone? Here are some habits to start.
How to be more empathetic at work
1. Don’t jump to conclusions.
We all have off days. Surely, you yourself have experienced them — those times when you’re not really yourself and struggle to do even the tasks that seem like second nature. So, when you see someone else struggling with their responsibilities, why not afford them the same benefit of the doubt you yourself would want?
Recognize that when someone is lagging or making mistakes, it’s not necessarily that they’re lazy or bad at their job. Give them the courtesy of remembering that we’re all human, and we all make mistakes.
2. Check in with colleagues.
It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that could make all the difference. Simply checking in from time to time can make a huge difference in someone’s day. Don’t wait until you notice that your coworker is looking a bit down — be proactive and check in no matter what your colleague’s apparent mood. All it takes is a “How are you doing?”
3. Make an effort to identify your own unconscious biases.
We all have unconscious biases. This can stand in the way of our ability to empathize with others, particularly when we’re around them regularly (a la our coworkers).
Take some time to consider your own biases. This is difficult work, and you won’t realize change overnight. But committing to understanding your own beliefs, unconscious or otherwise, is the first step toward addressing them — and preventing them from interfering with your ability to be compassionate at work.
4. Share your personal stories.
This one works particularly well if you’re a manager, but it’s a great strategy no matter what your relationship with your colleague. By opening up and sharing your own stories, you become more human and vulnerable to others, and that means you’ll also be more approachable. Open up! Show them a different side of yourself.
You, in turn, should take the time to listen to your colleagues when they share with you. You don’t need to solve all their problems — in fact, often, simply listening is the best approach. This, rather than attempting to “fix” your coworker, will make them feel heard.
6. Understand that people express themselves differently.
You express your stress and frustration in a certain way. But not everyone does so exactly the same. While you might bottle up your emotions and strew in silence, a coworker might wear their heart on their sleeve. Be cognizant of the differences in the way people express themselves. Be careful with how you react, and always afford others respect — even if you wouldn’t behave in the same way in a similar circumstance.
7. Remember: It’s the little things.
A shared smile. A laugh together before a meeting starts. An offer to pick up someone’s photocopies. A “Good morning.” These gestures may seem minor to you, but they can make all the difference. Commit to taking the time to do one of these things — or another small gesture — every day, and it will brighten your life, too, not just those of your colleagues.
Why should you be a more empathetic coworker?
When you’re an empathetic coworker, you’re a better coworker. Others will take notice and respect you more. You, yourself, will feel more valued, and this, in turn, will boost your own mental health and self-esteem.
Overall, empathy in the workplace contributes to productivity, congeniality and other important qualities that make your environment a more positive one for everyone.