Empathic Skills: Definition and Examples (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Empathy is an important soft skill to have in the workplace. This skill allows you to understand the perspectives and emotions of other parties, making it easier for you to communicate with them and resolve conflicts. Knowing how to empathise with others at work helps you build deeper relationships and earn more trust from colleagues, managers, vendors and clients. In this article, we explore the definition of empathic skills, discuss the various types of empathy, explain its significance in the workplace, share ways to develop it and offer advice on highlighting these skills during the job application process.

Definition of empathic skills

Empathic skills refer to a person's ability to sense and understand someone else's emotions in certain situations, even if you might not necessarily agree or share their feelings. Often, it allows you to imagine what the other party feels or thinks. It can thus enable you to take actions that help the other party process their emotions, provide emotional support or resolve their problems. In a professional setting, empathy is usually utilised in workplace conversations, where you can judge situations from other perspectives and offer solutions that consider the other party's opinions or feelings.

For instance, your colleague has recently disagreed with your superior and is feeling upset. Although you might not have disagreed with your superior before and don't share their feelings, you can still show empathy by listening to your colleague's grievances and providing advice in an objective manner that shows sensitivity towards their feelings.

Types of empathic skills

There are three main types of empathic skills:

Cognitive

This refers to the logical aspect of empathy. Also known as perspective-taking, it focuses on comprehending the rationale behind another person's thoughts and feelings towards a problem. This merely provides more clarity on their views and doesn't necessarily equate to you feeling the same way. You may even dissociate yourself from the other person's emotions, which is beneficial when you're required to remain objective on the issue.

Emotional

The next type of empathic display involves emotions. Emotional empathy helps you to connect with another person on a deeper level by sharing the same feelings as them over a situation. Sometimes, it may show through your body language unknowingly, such as through your facial expressions or physical movements. For example, you may subconsciously smile when your colleague is sharing their excitement over a new project, even if you're not participating in it. The ability to display emotional empathy can signal that you've established a genuine connection with the other party.

Compassion

This is the most ideal form of empathy that motivates you to take the best course of action. Compassion can help balance out thoughts and feelings about a situation, enabling you to focus on discovering a sensible solution. This ensures that you remain rational while still being able to offer emotional support to the other party.

Related: What Is Conflict Resolution? (With Methods and Examples)

Why is empathy important in the workplace?

Empathy is a useful tool for resolving disputes and providing support. It's especially useful when you want to validate another person's feelings but also deliver logical advice that serves their best interests. Developing empathy can allow you to navigate sensitive situations more fluidly. This enables you to achieve your colleagues' respect, build stronger professional connections and attain greater success in your career as others become more willing to follow you as a leader.

How to develop and apply empathy in the workplace

Here are some ways you can develop and apply these skills in the workplace:

1. Show curiosity towards new trends

To develop your empathy, it can be helpful to expose yourself to new methodologies and processes. Take the initiative to research the latest trends or topics in the industry and evaluate how you might adopt them in your current tasks. Through active research, you can discover new perspectives on ideas and strategies which help you learn more about your customers, vendors and investors to keep yourself relevant.

2. Stay open to different perspectives

Being open-minded to different ideas can be beneficial, as everyone has varying opinions or ways to solve problems. Try to understand their point of view and why they may have such perspectives. If possible, consider adopting their strategy instead of yours to evaluate the outcome of this solution more objectively. This helps you better relate to different business perspectives and opens up more possibilities for solutions at work, improving your problem-solving versatility.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition and Examples for Leaders

3. Exercise active listening

Be it towards clients, vendors or colleagues, being an active listener during conversations is a good way to build rapport and confidence with them. Active listening is often the first step in gaining their trust. When they're describing their problems, listen to them and validate their feelings. It helps you better propose solutions that can solve their issues and appease their emotions. If you see a colleague who's upset, show concern for them by offering to listen to their woes. Listening to them can help alleviate some of their stress and comfort them.

Related: Listening Skills: Definition, Importance and How to Practise

4. Ask questions

Ask questions during a conversation to show your curiosity about the problem and your sincerity in providing a solution. Clarify the circumstances that led to this problem and how it made them feel while rephrasing or repeating key points to show that you've comprehended the situation. Validate their emotions and assure them that you understand how they're feeling by using phrases like 'I can imagine what you're going through' or 'I understand where you're coming from' during your conversation.

5. Accept and deliver criticism tactfully

It's important to receive criticism maturely and act upon it to show that you understand your weaknesses and appreciate the person's intent to help you improve. Better still, actively seek feedback from your employers to show your passion for the job and willingness to improve. Likewise, when delivering criticism to others, be mindful of the other party's verbal response or body cues to determine their level of comfort with your feedback and adjust your communication tactics accordingly. This is how you can offer constructive criticism while considering their feelings.

Related: A Complete Guide on How to Handle Criticism at Work

Tips on using empathy in your job search

Empathy is an oft-sought skill in the workplace and certain industries seek this skill specifically when considering candidates. This is especially true for social work or customer-facing roles. Here are some tips on showing your empathy during your job search:

Include empathy-related keywords in your resume

Soft skills such as compassion, sympathy, active listening or emotional intelligence that illustrate your empathy are good to include on your resume. You can incorporate these keywords into the work experience or skills section of your resume. You can also look through the job description to identify other empathy-related skills the company may seek in their candidates and add those to your resume. Describe in detail how you've shown empathy in your job tasks and how they've impacted your job performance or company sales, if applicable.

Related: How to Use Resume Adjectives (With Examples)

Show interest in the company during your interview

Demonstrating empathy during a job interview can help in creating a good impression on the interviewer. Listen intently to the interviewer's questions and engage them by asking questions that convey your interest. Phrase your answers carefully to show your understanding of the interviewer's intent for asking the question. This can be done by using phrases such as 'I understand that this is important to you and the company' or 'I know where you're coming from and how this situation can affect your organisation'.

Exercise proper manners before and after the interview

It can be beneficial to be punctual and thank the interviewer for their time. This can show them your appreciation for the opportunity. Send them a thank-you email afterwards and offer your regards to the interviewer. These subtle actions display your empathy for their time and effort to consider you for the job, which can make them feel appreciated and valued.

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