Cultivating a Culture of Empathy

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share feelings of others. Focusing compassionately on others can help build a culture of empathy wherever you are.

Note that if you or a loved one is experiencing high levels of stress or have mental health concerns, licensed mental health professionals are available to offer you help and advice.

What are the benefits of a culture of empathy?

When empathy is practiced, people may:

  • Experience less stress.
  • Feel a greater sense of teamwork and collaboration.
  • Increase the ability to cope with difficult situations and setbacks.

Tips for cultivating empathy:

  • Demonstrate empathy for others, including those different from you.
  • Prioritize caring for others.
  • Practice healthy conflict resolution.
  • Listen without interrupting and pay attention when others are speaking.
  • Communicate respectfully.
  • Be encouraging to others and offer recognition.
  • Listen respectfully and openly to opinions you don’t share.
  • Ask respectful questions if you want to learn more about others’ perspectives, even if you disagree with their opinions.
  • Share decision-making.

Strategies to be an empathetic listener:

  • Be attentive and present. Listen with your full attention and without worrying about what you’ll say next.
  • Pay attention to pauses in the conversation. Be sure the other person is finished talking before you speak.
  • Don’t minimize the other person’s concerns, even if they seem small or unimportant to you.
  • Avoid trying to fix others’ problems or offering unsolicited help or solutions.
  • Don’t make it about you. Try to refrain from talking about yourself or comparing your experiences. Avoid phrases like, “I know exactly how you feel.”
  • Reflect their feelings back to them. Offer a phrase like, “That seems like it hurts.”
  • Listen without judgment. Avoid criticism or disapproval.
  • Pay attention to body language—yours and theirs. Try to remain neutral but attentive. Also, pay attention to the other’s body language, which can offer keys to how they feel.

Compassion—acting on empathy:

While empathy is the ability to understand and perceive the feelings of others, compassion is a response—the desire to help. What people find helpful is very personal. One person might find a gesture to be compassionate, while another might find it intrusive, so try to be in tune with the other person’s feelings when you want to help.

Suggestions for responding with compassion:

  • Ask “How are you feeling?”
  • Give a hug or a pat on the back if appropriate.
  • Ask “Do you want to talk about it?” or “Would it help if I sit with you?”
  • Ask the person if they would like to do something: go to lunch, get coffee, or take a walk, for example.
  • Ask if you can help. Sometimes offering to do a specific task—rather than saying “Let me know if I can help”—makes it easier for the person to say yes.
  • If they seem like they want advice, ask before you give it. Simply say, “If you want me to help you think about how to handle this, just let me know. I’m here for you.”

“Putting yourself in another person’s shoes” can foster empathy. A culture of empathy, whether in the workplace, at home, in schools, or in relationships, can lead to better collaboration, engagement, happiness, and productivity.