Workplace Empathy: Are We Really Listening?

Mar 23, 2020
4 min read
What comes to mind when you hear the word empathy? Discover why workplace empathy is becoming a larger topic of conversation as part of focusing on customer success and driving performance.

What comes to mind when you hear the word empathy? Relating to others? Acting with compassion? There are several ways to think about it, and many ways to act on it. Today, workplace empathy is becoming a larger topic of conversation as part of focusing on customer success and driving performance. And at this moment it is imperative given all that everyone is experiencing in this dynamic situation. It’s giving us an opportunity to take a minute to really think about others, and see how we can offer meaningful support.

Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of another. At Xactly, it’s paramount to create a positive work culture and a crucial part of our C.A.R.E. values—specifically as a part of customer focus. We recently completed a company-wide rally cry that was focused on increasing customer engagement and happiness. Empathy training was one of the completed initiatives of this cross-functional team collaboration. We wanted to do an even better job of supporting our clients and improving their overall experience.

This matters and here’s why: According to Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness, today’s world is 75% less empathetic than we were 30 years ago. So what caused this change, and how can we enable our teams to practice more empathy on a daily basis?

It’s simple—it all starts with people, and primarily YOU.

The Biggest Empathy Factors—People & Culture

So why is empathy so important? First and foremost, it helps us relate to one another, creates bonds, and fosters relationship growth—all critical not only in the workplace and with customers, but in our day to day lives. Jamil Zaki reports that empathetic people are happier, and organizations that practice it see 56% higher retention rates and increase productivity up to 40%.

In addition, empathy in the workplace impacts more than just performance. It also plays a big role in customer satisfaction. 42% of consumers refuse to buy from enterprises they don’t feel are empathetic.

So that means when it comes to workplace empathy, it needs to start with company culture. Your work culture impacts every interaction, brand perception, and ultimately, the success of your business. It should be something exercised as a top-down initiative. Leaders that practice workplace empathy and promote healthy, positive cultures will encourage their reporting teams to do the same. 

The individuals in your company play a huge role in customer success and are the heart of driving more compassion across the board. In turn, an employee’s positive, empathetic experience is then passed down to your customers. But before you can even begin to think about customer journeys and experiences, you have to first establish empathy with the people within your organization.

4 Steps to Be More Empathetic 

Managers and leaders can take four initial steps to help their teams practice workplace empathy. 

1. Listen and Observe

The most important part of workplace empathy is practicing active listening. This helps everyone keep an open mind and fully understand how the other person is feeling. Active listening requires more than just being engaged in the conversation. 

You should also watch for body language cues (e.g., facial expressions, crossed arms, etc.) and how the other person is speaking (e.g., phrases, word choice, tone). Aim to match the energy someone is giving off so that you can better identify emotions in others and relate.  

2. Be Curious

It’s advice you’ve heard since you were a kid: put yourself in another’s shoes. By trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, you can better understand the situation they’re going through, emotions they may be feeling, and as a result, be able to empathize more effectively. 

3. Validation vs. Invalidation 

A critical factor in practicing workplace empathy is validation. Each individual needs to feel that their feelings are validated, respected, and heard. It’s important to acknowledge where the person is in the moment and where they are coming from. That is the first step to a positive resolution of the situation. 

Invalidating Remarks to Avoid

Here are some responses that we may be using, thinking that they are comforting when in actuality, they are not (I’m definitely not saying “it could be worse” anymore!):

  • “You’ll be fine.” 
  • “It could be worse!”
  • “At least it’s not _____.”
  • “Just put a smile on your face and tough it out.”
  • “Don’t worry; things will work out.” 
  • “Stop complaining; you’re not the only one who’s hurting.”
  • “It’s not that big of a deal.”

Validating Responses to Practice Empathy

These kinds of statements can help you connect with others:

  • “Wow, that would be confusing.”
  • “They really said that? I’d be angry too!”
  • “Ah, that is so sad.”
  • “I totally get why you feel that way; I’ve been in a similar situation before and it was rough.”
  • “You have every right to be proud; that was a major accomplishment.”
  • “I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked incredibly hard on this. It must feel amazing.”

In addition to the four key steps above, you can also help guide conversations more effectively by: 

  • Asking “How can I help?”
  • Only offering advice if the other wants it
  • Using “and” instead of “but” 
  • Using “I” instead of “you”

Making Workplace Empathy a Priority

Encouragement is at the heart of workplace empathy. It’s important for managers and leaders to focus on coaching and providing advice in the best way possible to help employees grow and succeed in their roles. Ultimately, this drives higher performance, makes you a stronger organization, and creates a more positive customer experience. 

Want to find more ways to improve your workplace and customer experience? Discover how you can identify and eliminate gender pay gaps and promote equality in our guide, The State of Gender Equality in Sales.

If you’d like a copy of Xactly’s empathy training, please message me.

  • Culture
  • Sales Coaching and Motivation
MJ Rose
Mary Jo Rose
VP, Brand and PR

Mary Jo Rose is a creative, high energy communications professional. She has extensive experience developing compelling customer stories and vibrant brands.