The Importance of Empathy at Work

3 minute read

Empathy is something many of us like to think we’re good at. But often we don’t effectively use empathy at work. You might think that showing empathy will make you appear weak, or that by trying to understand different perspectives, you’ll end up indecisive and unclear. Truthfully, it really doesn’t work like that.

It’s important to note that empathy doesn’t come naturally to everyone―we all have different ways of communicating. But it’s a very useful skill to cultivate in some professions. Sometimes, if you’re not consciously practicing empathy at work, it can feel like you’re just batting back opinions ineffectively. This can escalate into misunderstandings and difficult working relationships.


What is empathy?

Empathy is the art of seeing the world as someone else sees it. It’s understanding and being sensitive to the feelings of another person. Importantly, having empathy is also about understanding yourself so that you can appreciate how you’re coming across and why you’re behaving as you are in certain situations.

If you want to communicate with people easily and productively, then make a conscious effort to use empathy at work. Consider things from the other person’s perspective. Look also at the non-verbal signals we all give off. Little things can reveal so much about how someone’s really feeling in a situation, even if they’re not saying it out loud. Often an aggressive response comes from a place of fear or worry, so being able to recognise that and speak to someone’s fears can immediately take the heat out of a difficult situation.

The Importance of Empathy at Work

The benefits of an empathetic workplace

Showing empathy at work doesn’t mean giving in to a viewpoint you know to be wrong. It means recognising what’s motivating someone to take a stance so you can talk to them about it productively. If you can show a willingness to listen and possibly adapt your own ideas, you’ll gain respect and trust.

Using empathy at work has many rewards, including:

  • a better understanding of the needs of your beneficiaries
  • less trouble dealing with hostile situations at work
  • an ability to predict where and how a situation could escalate
  • better powers of persuasion and motivation
  • establishing yourself as someone who’s strong and confident enough to listen to alternative viewpoints
  • more effective collaboration due to better communication and fewer misunderstandings.


Why is empathy so important in the charity sector?

Employing empathy in your day-to-day working life is especially important if you’re helping people who are vulnerable. You need to show empathy for the cause, but also to consider others so that you can work with them in ways that are sensitive and appropriate.

Plus, charities benefit from a diverse workforce. Employees enter the sector from a variety of careers, bonded often by a commitment to the cause that’s come from personal experience. You’ll do well in the charity sector if you’re interested in learning from others whose experience is different from your own.

The Importance of Empathy at Work

How can you apply this to your working life?

Some research suggests we’re more likely to empathise with people who are a bit like us, or who have a similar background or responsibilities. To really communicate effectively at work, you need to make sure you reduce bias and give equal consideration to the perspectives of everyone involved.

Here are a few things you could practice to help you cultivate empathy at work.

1. Listen to others without interrupting

It’s easy to think that interjecting with a similar story about something that happened to you is a good way to show that you understand what the other person is saying. But to really understand, it’s better to actively listen without interrupting.

2. Ask questions

When someone shares an opinion or experience with you, ask questions. You’ll be able to put yourself in their shoes more easily if you know some context around why they think and react the way they do.

3. Be open to other perspectives

It’s easy to make snap judgements without considering other’s perspectives. Try to understand others, even when you don’t agree with them.

4. Seek to identify your biases

We all have unconscious biases that colour what we think about and how we respond to others. Take advantage of any training courses offered by your organisation and actively seek out information in your own time.


If you make the effort to use empathy at work to understand where others are coming from, you’ll open up lines of communication and develop rewarding relationships that will transform your working life.

Still looking for the charity job that’s the perfect fit for you? Take a look at who’s currently hiring on our site.


This post was originally published in 2020 and has been updated to ensure relevance and to reflect the current jobseeker experience.


Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.

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