An executive with a Fortune 500 company recently shared that their leadership development program teaches team members how to distinguish among and use the three kinds of empathy in the workplace.
The company realized that practicing empathy is a good thing for their bottom line in many ways. Empathy at work is demonstrated to enhance leadership effectiveness and HBR reports there’s a strong link between empathetic leaders and financial performance. It’s also good for employee health.
According to HR Magazine, research shows that when we express empathy, there are physiological effects that both calm us in the present and strengthen our long-term wellbeing. We benefit and others benefit.
Here are the three kinds of empathy to keep in mind, courtesy of the Skills You Need website:
1. Cognitive Empathy, which is also known as ‘perspective-taking,’ isn’t really what we think of as empathy. It means being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see where they’re coming from. Good to use in negotiations. This is “empathy by thought,” instead of by feeling.
2. Emotional Empathy, which is when you almost feel what the other person is experiencing alongside them, “as if you had ‘caught’ the emotions.” This is also known as emotional contagion. It’s closer to what we tend to think of when we define empathy, but with more emotions.
This kind of empathy is good, because it lets us relate to others and what they’re going through. But it can also be bad, in that it’s possible that we “become overwhelmed by those emotions, and therefore unable to respond.” This is empathy overload or empathy fatigue. People who have “a tendency to become overwhelmed need to work on their self-regulation, and particularly their self-control, so that they become better able to manage their own emotions.”
3. Compassionate Empathy is about “feeling someone’s pain, and taking action to help. The name, compassionate empathy, is consistent with what we usually understand by compassion. Like sympathy, compassion is about feeling concern for someone, but with an additional move towards action to mitigate the problem.”
This kind of empathy is the type that’s usually most appropriate. Team members need us to understand and sympathize with their experience, and "either take, or help them to take, action to resolve the problem".
Taken together, these three kinds of empathy can contribute to positive morale, employee retention, and healthier, more positive workplaces, while at the same time ensuring teams can deliver on results.
Are you using empathy to create a culture of performance and productivity? Contact Beth Offenbacker to discuss if a customized leadership training session is the right next step for your firm.