In your co-worker's shoes

In your co-worker's shoes

Monday, 11 february 2019 | Brenda Rodríguez López

The ability to see the world through someone else's eyes is a skill which is both desirable and necessary in the workplace. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is not always easy. However, when companies foster empathy at work, they are betting on teamwork, leadership, creativity, the achievement of goals, productivity and a good working environment. Unfortunately, this professional skill is often forgotten, underestimated or confronted from a wrong perspective. What happens when this occurs? Is there any way to foster empathy within companies? How to learn to be more empathetic with colleagues?


Behind a bad gesture, a misunderstanding may be hiding. Behind a defiant attitude, the idea of being underestimated. Behind a passive attitude, the firm conviction of getting eventually fired. There are no fixed rules for this kind of cases, since there are always many possible scenarios, and not all people react in the same way to the same context. Nonetheless, this kind of behaviors are often analyzed with coldness, rigidness and little reflection.

The lack of empathy often leads to the drawing wrong conclusions. This skill, which has been questioned sometimes, is vital for any professional, whatever their job is; from a veteran leader to the last employee joining the company. When professionals are able to go beyond their first impressions and make an effort to try to understand the context and feelings of their coworkers, they can adopt a more open and wider vision, generate trust, exercise an exemplary leadership, open up the doors of communication and lay the foundations to build an efficient and effective work team.

The empathic work environment

Companies are a faithful reflection of the people who are part of them. Tension and the lack of team spirit appear soon when empathy is conspicuous by its absence at work. The atmosphere becomes tense when this skill is not common among employees, managers or the relation which they have between both. First of all, it is important to note that having empathy does not mean adopting an enthusiastic and optimistic philosophy based on sympathy. This competence refers to the ability which people have to put themselves in someone else's shoes, either from an emotional or rational perspective.

Lack of empathy can lead to disaster. This is the case of the companies that have to face an important organizational change and do not establish an empathic communication. Crews must be always in the same boat as their captains so that their ships can reach the right ports. If managers do not know how to empathize with employees, they may not guide them well. Something which is  indispensable in a process like this is to practice empathic listening. When facing changes, the best tool to use is a right communication: speaking honestly and openly, and considering the context of the others. The fewer doubts employees have about changes, the easier it is for them to cope with them.

When we speak of empathy, managerial positions play a large part of the discourse. Something we can consider logical if we take into account that bosses are the mirror in which their employees look at themselves. Good leaders should behave the way they want their employees to behave. But this article is not only aimed at top executives. The rest of workers can also go through bad times because of the disagreements they have with their colleagues. Many times, these conflicts can be solved with empathy and certain interest in sorting them out.


In your co-worker's shoes

Being empathetic to foster empathy

As we mentioned earlier, example is the best way of inspiring empathy within the workplace. In the same way that the type of leadership which is fostered in companies can define these firms somehow, when workers put themselves in the shoes of their coworkers they are also contributing to their partners being more empathic. Like yawns (see the theory of "mirror neurons"), behaviors are also contagious. Of course, this method is not infallible, and not all people will respond to it, but it can help to create a more respectful and cooperative environment.

However, the rhythm and work routine contribute to the fact that most of the time we do not notice how important it is to pay attention to this key skill focused on someone else's vision. Below, we offer several tips to put into practice and not to forget empathy at work:

  • Pay attention to how you convey information
  • Practice active listening
  • Understand how changes can affect the other
  • Listen to coworkers without prejudging them and try to understand their motivations
  • Share with employees and colleagues the achievements
  • Find a bridge to connect with people who you consider unbearable at first
  • Depersonalize situations
  • Focus on similarities rather than differences
  • Confront complex situations, do not flee from them
  • Understand your own behavior: <<Why am I reacting so badly?>>
  • Do not give advice if coworkers do not ask for it, wait until they do
  • Help in what others need
  • Be patient and spend time trying to understand the others
  • Keep calm at times of tension

Leadership and ethics are the driving forces of The CEU IAM Business School. Trainings such as our International MBA and our Executive Development Program (EDP) have been designed to meet the needs and demands of professionals who wish to lead a digital, global and changeable environment, without leaving aside a deep sense of ethics. Do not hesitate to request further information about them.

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