While empathy helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of another, empathic curiosity takes it a step further. Instead of just wondering what a person does for a living, empathetic curiosity makes you wonder why they do it. It’s this conscious, careful, wonder that allows us to learn what it’s really like to live in their shoes. Showing interest in an employee’s life and background helps us to not only understand them better but creates a more harmonious workplace.
“Many people believe empathy is something we reserve for our home and family life, but the reality is it’s vital in business too. Empathetic leaders often display increased emotional intelligence and are better at creating a more inclusive workplace,” explained Marcela Slepica, Clinical Director at AccessEAP.
“It is said that ‘nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care’ and this is certainly true in a workplace setting. Employees who feel cared for and are valued are more productive, innovative and loyal. Without growth and innovation, businesses stagnate and fade away. By understanding others, we develop closer relationships and start to build trust which is essential for success in every business,” Slepica adds.
When asked respectfully and with genuine curiosity, questions help to improve our connection and relationships. Strong relationships in the workplace can lead to improved teamwork and collaboration, increased morale and greater productivity. A recent US study shows that nine in 10 employees are more likely to stay with an organization that empathised with their needs and 80 per cent would be willing to work longer hours for an empathetic employer.
Empathy requires listening, openness and understanding; thankfully, it is a trait that can be developed. Training should be provided to employees and leaders on an ongoing basis to help build on inclusive strategies and strengthen our ability to communicate.
Here, Slepica offers some simple ways to develop and increase empathy:
Empathetic leaders spend more time listening than talking as they want to understand the difficulties others face. Listening will help them understand their team better as well as any challenges they may face. Organisations should create opportunities for dialogue between leaders and employees where everyone can speak their mind in an open environment. Face to face conversations and team meetings tend to be the most effective.
Asking questions shows others that you are giving them your attention, you care about what they say and makes them feel like they are being heard. This in turn will make them feel more valued. In conflict situations asking curious questions leads to better outcomes as people are given an opportunity to have their side heard, which in turn helps understanding and may avoid assumptions.
Embracing different backgrounds, genders, cultural heritage, ages and working styles can help create more empathy in the workplace. Being respectfully curious about the backgrounds and particular needs of your team will help them feel more valued and bring the best out of them.
Understanding different cultures and their styles allows for more effective management.
Respecting the need for flexibility is crucial and taking time to understand the need for time off for personal or family issues, or the need for flexible working hours, is a simple way to use your curiosity to help you be a more collaborative leader. Often people leave managers, not jobs.
Practice empathetic curiosity daily
Empathetic curiosity is a learned skill that can grow with practice, so put it into daily use. Make a conscious effort to be more inquisitive in day to day activities and interactions through words and actions. This is essential in today’s workplaces where five generations are working side by side.
An empathetically curious workplace gains the productivity benefits of attracting and retaining valuable staff and maintaining high staff morale.
 State of Workplace Empathy Study https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/psychosocial-health-and-safety-and-bullying-australian-workplaces-2nd-edition