When empathy is part of a workplace culture, employees are happier and more productive, leading to greater success all around. And while difficult circumstances require more empathy than usual, they also make it easy for this crucial skill to get lost in the shuffle. 

Daily Communication 

Empathy starts with simple interactions that show genuine interest. Check in with colleagues about how their days are going, how their workload feels, and what they might need. Then—and this is the tricky part—really listen to their answers. Active listening is a crucial skill for professionals in any industry.  

Also, make a habit of thanking people for their time, attention, and effort. This could happen at the beginning or end of a meeting, after someone completes an assignment, or when people leave or sign off for the day. It might seem strange to thank someone for performing tasks that are just part of the job, but gratitude is an easy, free, and unlimited way to let colleagues know they’re appreciated and valued. 

Honesty and Authenticity 

Owning your mistakes is one of the most empathetic professional things you can do. When you admit you’re not perfect and take steps to make things right, you give others permission to do the same. 

Think of it this way: would you rather have a co-worker hide an error or confess as soon as possible so you can find a solution? People should feel comfortable coming forward with their mistakes. 

Leadership and Teamwork 

Empathy flows “top-down” in an organizational hierarchy. Leaders can look out for staff members’ mental and emotional well-being, of course. But they can set an example of compassion in more subtle ways. Make sure all voices, not just the loudest or most opinionated speakers, are heard in discussions. Give others a chance to facilitate meetings and lead initiatives as appropriate. Show interest in everyone on staff—learn their names, their career goals, and what they find most exciting about their job. If you work for a larger organization, this becomes even more essential. 

Actions like these contribute to a culture that prizes teamwork and cooperation. Maybe your workers have different responsibilities, pay scales, and levels of experience, but they’re all crucial to the success of your mission. The more employees feel valued and supported, the more likely they are to feel proud of the work they do and go “above and beyond” in their duties. 

Handling conflict 

Conflict is inevitable when people work together, and a lack of empathy can make conflict worse. Behavioral science describes a “hot-cold empathy gap” where people in “hot” moods—driven by stress, urgency, anxiety, or emotional impulses—can’t relate to people in calmer “cold” moods. On the other hand, those in “cold” moods have trouble responding to co-workers in an anxious “hot” state. 

Empathy starts with a good faith effort to understand why someone is behaving in a way that puzzles you. Resist the impulse to judge or criticize someone, either to their face or to others 

Remember you can validate someone’s feelings and opinions even if you don’t share them.  

Learning to navigate disagreements respectfully is a key part of teamwork—organizations can’t make progress if everyone agrees on everything all the time! 

Like most skills we learn, empathy is an ongoing process. But putting it into practice can make your organization a place where people grow, thrive, and love to work, even in the worst of circumstances.