Everything you need to know about empathy in business

Why is empathy important? The question bears weight in every facet of life, from our personal and professional relationships to our day-to-day small business operations. Mastering how to show empathy often makes the difference between keeping relationships or losing them. Given the benefits of empathy in other parts of life, it’s no wonder so many of us are left wondering, What are the benefits of empathy in the workplace?

As Tony Robbins says, “We all differ in how we perceive the world, and it’s this difference that must guide our communications with others as we seek to understand their perspectives.” This same truth applies to workplace communications, and we must treat everyone we come into contact with on the job with dignity and respect. As we build this framework of understanding into our business interactions, we begin to value the transformative impact of empathy in business.

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Why empathy is important in business

As we strive to understand why empathy is important in the workplace, we need a working definition of empathy. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another [person]….” Psychology Today takes the definition of empathy further, stating that humanizing our enemies (i.e. empathizing with them) develops our resilience and decreases our suffering. That is, by using empathy to relate to our “enemies,” whether they are friends, coworkers or business competitors with whom we disagree, we’re able to hear the other party’s point-of-view and thereby decrease conflict. As we master how to show empathy, we’re wise to embrace a definition of empathy that shrinks our definition of “enemies” while expanding our capacity for understanding others.

Benefits of empathy in business

When it comes to the benefits of empathy in business, we must embrace the fact that empathy is an important skill to have in any business where you are interacting with not only customers but also employees, vendors and other professionals. People are people, and whatever their professional acumen is, they will sense others’ expressions of empathy both on and off the job. Therefore, it is imperative for small business owners to master interacting empathetically with others so that critical relationships are not damaged.

Why is empathy important in the workplace? Its benefits are proven by science. Entrepreneur reports that nurturing empathy in business brings numerous benefits, including increased sales, productivity, innovation and competitive advantage. The Center for Creative Leadership reports on additional data supporting the benefits of empathy in business. An analysis of 6,731 managers in 38 countries demonstrated that empathy is positively related to job performance. Specifically, managers who demonstrated empathy received higher performance evaluations by their supervisors than managers without empathy. Importantly, the study also emphasized that empathy can be learned. Therefore, proactive management practices like teaching active listening, encouraging perspective-taking and cultivating compassion are likely to encourage empathy in business.

When it comes to the benefits of empathy in the business world, let’s look no further than Danny Meyer, Shake Shack’s founder. Meyer runs his (successful) business on an empathy-centered philosophy: Understanding why empathy is important and practicing how to show empathy equate directly to recruiting and keeping raving fans of your product.

Empathy in the workplace is also vital to building trust with your team. Every time you disregard someone’s opinion or treat them like they don’t matter, you are eroding trust. Leadership is built on trust and respect and you can increase both of these by taking the time to understand where people are coming from and accepting their differences.

How to show empathy in business

To become better equipped to embrace empathy in all areas of our lives, let’s look at some practical strategies for how to show empathy in business.

1. Use empathy in business to win over difficult people

As ironic as it may sound, championing why empathy is important often hinges on committing to empathy in business for your most difficult customers, partners or employees. The reasoning is straightforward: Since empathy is a human endeavor, empathy in the business world means engaging every human, not just the pleasant ones.

Learn to empathize with each and every person you or your staff encounters, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering empathy. Ask questions and truly listen to the answers. If you’re bothered by a difficult person on your team, try to respond with thoughtful intention rather than react abrasively in the moment, and seek to understand where they’re coming from. We are usually triggered because our expectations have not been lived up to. Trade your expectations for appreciation, forgive the person for upsetting you and see how this transforms your interactions.

empathy in the workplace

2. Understanding as a way to show empathy in the workplace

empathy in the workplace

In our day-to-day work lives, it’s so easy to become lost in our own experience. However, to grasp empathy, we must learn to recognize the “invisible sign” hanging around everyone’s neck – the sign that indicates that person’s needs. That is, whether we choose to recognize everyone’s needs or not, the fact remains that everyone needs empathy and understanding. Part of learning how to show empathy means recognizing others’ needs, regardless of their relationship to us.

How do you find out what another person’s needs are? The simple answer is to get to know them better. Even if you don’t see someone on a regular basis, you can still use your interactions to ask questions and find out more about their work style, patterns and preferred methods of communication. 

3. Use the Golden Rule to show empathy in business

Why is empathy important in the workplace? It reflects the Golden Rule – as we practice doing unto others as we wish they’d do unto us, we practice how to show empathy in investigating others’ emotional experiences. In mastering empathy in business and our personal lives, we become able to bring the benefits of empathy to the workplace. The next time you’re tempted to snap at a co-worker or berate one of your employees in front of their team, stop for a minute, take a breath and ask yourself, “Would I want to be treated this way?” 


empathy in the workplace

Examples of empathy in the workplace

empathy in the workplace

1. When an employee or coworker appears visibly upset, ask them to come with you to a private place and tell them you’re willing to listen without judgment.

2. If a team member disagrees with your idea in a meeting, ask them to explain why they feel that way instead of getting defensive or shutting down.

3. If you are an owner or manager, have regular one-on-one meetings with your team members to ask them how things are going and if there are any ideas they want to share or concerns they want to address.

4. If someone in the office is in need – for example, their spouse lost a job or their child is in the hospital – rally the rest of the office to donate money or pick up some of their extra work as they get through their tough time.

5. When someone in the office is excited about something, ask them questions and share in their joy – even if you don’t understand it.

Understanding empathy is a critical component of running a successful business. Create the ultimate business advantage by attending Business Mastery, a five-day live experience with Tony Robbins, today.

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Discover how to utilize the asset of empathy in the workplace with Tony’s 7 Forces of Business Mastery guide.