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Empathy at Work


People often confuse the words empathy and sympathy. While sympathy involves having feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In other words, empathy calls above all for awareness of another. In the workplace, empathy is crucial if we’re to understand other people better, develop leadership skills and work collaboratively to get the job done.


But, with so many thoughts buzzing around our heads every day, so many hopes, regrets, fears, anticipations – and the endless tasks we need to complete – it’s understandable that we easily lose sight of other people and their needs.


Mindfulness training can help to calm the busy mind. It can help us to focus in the present moment and to become more aware of ourselves and others.


Empathy at work

Active listening and mindfulness

Communication drives the modern workplace and enhanced listening skills help us to build more positive work relationships. They enable us to to share understandings with work colleagues and make for great harmony and efficiency at work. But, how often do we truly listen to those around us?


Studies suggest that when we practice mindfulness, we experience increased empathy for others. This allows us to communicate in a more supportive way, so we are actively listening and understanding the people we encounter each day. When we feel understood, when we understand others, we have better relationships at work. And that helps us to work better with others. A culture of mindfulness fosters the attitude that building effective relationships is a key component in productivity.

Stress and empathy

The workplace can be a hotbed of stress caused by impending deadlines and differing opinions. It can be overwhelming and, with managerial decisions becoming more complex during times of change, it’s no surprise that many people feel the strain. Psychologist Arthur Ciaramicoli suggests that empathy is the answer:

‘Leading with empathy can help those around us to be sources of support in our lives and reduce the likelihood of interpersonal conflict.’

Mindfulness training can help us to shift the focus from our internal world to our external world. With a heightened awareness of the people around us, we’re more readily available to offer our support and compassion when stress becomes a factor in the work environment. This in turn helps to keep stress levels down for us and amongst our colleagues.

Collaborative working

As leaders increasingly come to work more collaboratively with their teams the development of empathy through mindfulness can enable leaders to better connect with staff and work together to achieve common goals. Empathy can catalyze collaboration and creative problem solving.


Mindfulness helps us to look at those around us not just compassionately, but in a more inquisitive manner. This so-called cognitive empathy, Goleman suggests, is a way of tuning in to another person to get an understanding of their view:

‘… it tells us how to communicate best with that person: what matters most to them, their models of the world, and what words to use – or avoid – in talking with them.’

When we understand others, it’s much easier to work with them towards shared goals. Mindfulness training allows us to take notice and build better relationships. That’s a real driver of success in the workplace.


To find out more about empathy and mindfulness training, contact rachel@msbr.co.uk or call (+44) 01223 750660


Ethics at Work
Empathy at Work