What use is empathy really

Do companies need a chief empathy officer?

In our everyday work, ambition, selfishness and elbows often dominate. If you want to move forward, you have to assert yourself, according to the general creed. There are means that are often much more useful for achieving our goals: empathy and empathy.

Empathy and empathy are success factors in the job that pay off.

Empathic behavior is often associated with weakness, and it can make a significant contribution to our professional advancement. And for executives it is an indispensable management tool in the digital age.

What actually is empathy?

Reasonable action in the human sphere is only possible if one tries to understand the thoughts, motives and fears of the other so that one knows how to put oneself in his shoes. - Albert Einstein

For me personally, empathy is synonymous with empathy, compassion, connectedness, willingness to help. According to the Gabler-Wirtschaftslexikon it is the ability to empathize with the thoughts and feelings of other people and - most importantly - to react appropriately to them.

This ability can also be called the ability to resonate. People who are open to their own emotions should also be able to read the feelings of others more easily. A healthy self-perception is therefore the best basis for empathic behavior.

What forms of empathy are there?

The ability to understand and accurately predict the behavior of other people or a team goes beyond compassion. It is an important core competence in many professions and is considered the most important management competence - Waldemar Pelz, professor at the Institute for Management Innovations.

Experts differentiate between three forms of empathy:

  • The emotional empathy, the compassion. It enables us to understand the feelings of others and to provide help. Mothers should be able to differentiate between up to eight different tones of their crying baby and read from them what it needs. You know: it doesn't always scream because it is hungry. In this respect, emotional empathy strengthens people's cohesion.
  • There is also the cognitive empathythat helps us to correctly interpret the thoughts and intentions of others and to draw conclusions about their further behavior. To do this, one must also be able to understand non-verbal messages. Cognitive empathy is very valuable in professional life in order to be able to plan reliably, negotiate successfully and resolve any conflicts.
  • And then there is that social empathy. It enables us to understand the behavior of groups on the basis of their thoughts and motives and, if necessary, to influence them. Managers who have social empathy, for example, can estimate how their decisions affect different levels of the hierarchy.

What are the benefits of empathy privately and professionally?

For living together in everyday life, empathy is of course a valuable component. Anyone who understands what makes other people tick and specifically addresses them has social skills and emotional intelligence. Such a person can reach others, take them with them and build them up, they can settle disputes, bring about compromises and draw attention to things that others may not have noticed.

Empathy is also an indispensable quality at work, for example in service. Our customer advisors on the hotline and our field service technicians cannot do without them. Only those who can empathize with the customer's situation are also able to offer them an adequate solution. And of course empathy is incredibly useful in many other industries, be it in sales, consulting, product development or marketing. In health care, education and nursing anyway. Anyone who wants to do a good job here cannot do without a minimum of sympathy. So empathy not only makes people human and personable, it is also often closely linked to success.

The business psychologist Dr. Mark Goulston:

"The less empathic a company is towards its customers, investors, talents and employees, the more these people will all 'vote with their feet' and choose to buy, invest and work elsewhere."

So empathy literally pays off.

What does science say about empathy?

Various scientific studies have shown that empathy in the workplace increases employee engagement, increases work performance and leads to greater satisfaction.

  • A study by Gerhard Blickle, Professor of Psychology at the University of Bonn, proves, for example, that if you can empathize with the feelings of your colleagues, you will make faster progress in your job - provided you are ambitious enough to have a career at the same time. The researcher calls this profitable property bulky “emotion recognition ability”. It therefore helps to better assess the respective situation, to avoid faux pas more easily and to motivate colleagues better.
  • E.An analysis by the management consultancy DDI showed that managers who listen empathically and react are also more capable when it comes to coaching employees in a targeted manner, arousing enthusiasm and making well-founded decisions. Even their overall management performance is related to this soft skill. Unfortunately, only 40 percent of executives are particularly strong when it comes to empathy.

Why is empathy so important in leadership?

Managers generally want to be strong, not show weaknesses. Hard facts often count more than soft skills. Empathy is not a weakness at all, but a real strength. The Fraunhofer Institute for Labor Economics and Organization (IOA) even describes you as one of three superpowers for successful leadership in our digitized world - in addition to resonance and resilience.

This is not really surprising: after all, you have to understand your employees and be able to empathize with their needs in order to be able to lead them successfully. Especially in times of digitization, managers should be mentors and motivators. Inclusion and empathy instead of command and control. It is about bringing the specialists in the company together and providing them with the necessary (free) space and the necessary resources for their work.

Successful leaders take people with them

Take care of your employees and they will take care of your business. It's as simple as that. - Richard Branson

Empathetic managers notice where the problem is, they take people with them and involve them in decisions. You recognize what an employee is good at and give them appropriate tasks. The entire company benefits from this. In addition, empathy is a very important factor in being and appearing as a resilient manager. Because in our fast-paced times, managers should give their teams security and at the same time make them fit to master even unpredictable situations.

That's why I say: The Chief Empathy Officer (CEO) should not be missing in any company. One who has already internalized this is Microsoft boss Satya Nadella. Not only has he whipped up his company's business and increased the share price considerably. He also elevated virtues such as mindfulness and empathy to the leadership mantra. “We want to create innovations that meet the unmet, unspoken needs of our customers. That's what our business is about, "says Nadella, freely translated. And that requires great empathy. He also writes about this in his book "Hit Refresh - How Microsoft has reinvented itself and is changing the future".

Digital empathy so that people are not forgotten

“Empathy is the key to everything.” - Satya Nadella

I myself also like to speak of digital empathy. By that I mean that when it comes to digitization, you shouldn't forget people. You have to take them and their worries seriously, give them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with new, unknown technologies. In my opinion, when it comes to the digital transformation of business areas, one should proceed consistently, but at the same time cautiously and empathetically. Step by step! And always empathize with the user - regardless of whether it is a customer or an employee. Because if you don't take people with you, even the greatest tools won't help you, and you'll fail.

How can you improve your empathy?

The human quality that I would most like to enhance is empathy. - Stephen Hawking

Experts are convinced: empathy is a skill that can be learned, keyword “empathy”. It can be improved a little.

A few essential questions help to reflect on a situation and show empathy. The "Career Bible" website distinguishes between four steps in this context:

  1. Perception: How is the other?
  2. Understanding: Why is he feeling like this?
  3. Anticipation: how will he react?
  4. Response: How do I react to it?

Those who go through these questions regularly and try to find the appropriate answers gradually develop their ability to empathize.

Empathy - with eyes, ears and heart

Of course, empathy also depends on the right sense of proportion. Everything in moderation, do not overdo it. It can't be the goal yourself just to take care of others and to completely disregard one's own needs. That does not and does not work well in the long run! Rather, it's about next to your own plans and goals also to have an eye, an ear and a heart for the concerns of others. Outwardly directed mindfulness. As the American ex-President Barack Obama once said: "Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world."