The Most Important Empathy Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar
Aug. 9, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

When you work with supervisors, fellow employees, and customers, you are dealing with people, each with their own individuality and history.

It is normal to get lost in your mind and forget that others do not see the world as you do. This can lead to lost opportunities and destructive conflict, but if you stay mindful of others you can create a more meaningful impact in the workplace.

To do so you need empathy. Luckily, you already have this trait, though you may need to develop and refine it. This is true for even the most empathetic professionals.

Key Takeaways:

  • Empathy is the ability to perceive and understand the emotions of another person.

  • There are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and compassionate.

  • Active listening, self-awareness, and curiosity are all important skills that improve empathy.

  • Empathy in the workplace leads to better teamwork and leadership.

  • Empathy is different from sympathy because whereas sympathy involves acknowledgement and understanding, empathy involves haring in the feelings of another.

The Most Important Empathy Skills (With Examples)

What Is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to perceive and understand the emotions of another person. It is an essential psychological trait needed to create social bonds between individuals. Without empathy, people would not be able to react to one another in constructive ways. Another key component is the shared emotional reaction that results in empathy.

When you are being empathetic, you understand what the other person is going through because you can feel similar emotions. This is either from instinct or else your memory and imagination put you in their position. In any case, you develop an emotional connection due to your empathetic awareness.

Empathy is a key factor in emotional intelligence which makes it an important skill in the workplace. Empathetic employees and employers result in better job performance because it builds respect and inclusiveness among people. By developing your empathy skills you improve your professional relationships which lead to better opportunities for success.

Skills For Empathy

Empathy does not exist on its own — it takes a combination of other skills to develop. To improve your empathy, you will also need to refine and incorporate other experiences.

  • Active listening. Empathy usually results from a conversation you have with another person. When they are speaking you want to make sure you are fully listening. Active listening means you focus on what is being said and avoid interrupting. A good active listener will repeat or summarize what they heard to solidify their understanding.

  • Self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to understand how you and others perceive yourself. Someone with a high level of self-awareness will have an accurate assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

    This includes how thoughts and emotions affect them. Your self-awareness is necessary to navigate the emotional state of another.

  • Understand body language. Body language reveals a lot about what a person is feeling. Though they may say one thing, their movements could tell another.

    Particularly with facial recognition, empathy uses the body language of another person to guess what they are feeling. By looking at someone, their presentation might tell you all you need to know.

  • Curiosity. A desire to understand a person is more effective when there is a genuine desire to learn more about them. Curiosity helps foster this connection. Use your curiosity to learn about the other person. Also, let curiosity influence your thoughts and emotions as you try to see and feel from another’s perspective.

  • Nonviolent communication. Nonviolent communication uses strategies to reach an understanding without the use of aggression. Your ability to connect with another person depends on your ability to move away from aggressive or defensive tendencies. Therefore, with nonviolent communication, you can use your empathy.

  • Receiving feedback. There are situations where when you receive feedback you may need to use your empathy. If someone tells you that your actions made them feel a certain way, it can be helpful to be empathetic to their feedback. This in turn can help you respond in a manner that is constructive rather than divisive.

  • Reading. Both fiction and nonfiction literature provide large access to empathy-building resources. Fictional books place you in the minds of other characters which inadvertently builds your empathic responsiveness. Nonfiction books, meanwhile, can educate you on topics related to empathy to better your understanding of the skill.

  • Leave your comfort zone. Sometimes you need to be vulnerable and learn to keep an open mind. The best way to do this is to leave your comfort zone and challenge yourself. Place yourself in new environments that make you reconsider past assumptions and teach you about other ways of living.

  • Understand basic psychology. The human brain is the most complex organ in the body. Learn a basic understanding of how the mind works to empower yourself in situations that call for empathy. You will have more context to the thoughts and emotions you experience, which can lead to better decisions.

The Differences Between Empathy and Sympathy

Many people confuse empathy with sympathy, but sympathy is only the acknowledgment of another person’s feelings. Though this is important, empathy goes one step beyond creating a personal understanding of those feelings. With sympathy, you stay on the outside and feel for that person. With empathy, you look inwards to relate and feel with the other’s experience.

Consider how a doctor or a politician may deliver a sympathetic message before they begin to speak about a serious topic. The sympathy allows the audience to be acknowledged. Yet, imagine a manager who sees an employee overwhelmed with grief. An empathetic manager will act on their empathy and let their feelings inform their decision to help their employee.

Types of Empathy

Empathy can be broken down into three categories. Each type is important, however, they vary in the depth in which one feels for another and how to react to those emotions.

  • Cognitive. Cognitive, or rational, empathy is when you use your logic and reasoning to place yourself into the perspective of another. This may come from building off previous memories of similar experiences or else remembering what you have been taught about emotional awareness. However, you may remain emotionally neutral yourself.

  • Emotional. Emotional, or affective, empathy comes from experiencing an emotional reaction to the other person. You feel what they feel. This can be a natural reaction or from practice. Sometimes cognitive empathy can lead to emotional empathy when your thoughts start to affect your emotions.

  • Compassionate. Compassionate, or active, empathy combines the cognitive and emotional empathetic qualities and results in taking action to help the other person. Through understanding and feeling for the other, compassionate empathy looks for ways to have a positive impact.

Each type of empathy has its appropriate uses. Cognitive empathy is important for situations where you need to stay emotionally separate and make decisions that are not affected by the emotions of another person. Emotional empathy is very important to build authentic relationships because it creates a deeper connection.

Compassionate empathy is very good for situations where your own emotions have a beneficial impact on the action you take to help another. Empathy can be emotionally exhausting and it is important to be mindful of the effects it may have on you. When possible, take time to self-reflect on important moments of empathy to see how you can improve.

Why Empathy Is Important For The Workplace

Empathy is an important skill regardless of your occupation. Your ability to deal with people will impact your success because customers, employees, supervisors, and investors will all have emotional reactions from time to time. Your ability to understand and communicate through those emotions will strengthen your ability to pursue your goals. So consider how empathy:

  • Leads to effective communication. When others feel understood they are more willing to understand. Empathy helps break down barriers and builds a connection between individuals. In many stressful professional situations, this connection can be the deciding factor between success and failure.

  • Better teamwork and better results. Empathy, especially cognitive empathy, acts on the needs and concerns of others to create a positive outcome. Such an emotional perception can help others feel confident. This confidence in turn motivates them to reach their full potential.

  • Necessary leadership skills to create a productive environment. The best leaders get the best out of their team. When a manager acts with empathy, employees feel valued which leads to productive engagement. Employees are more likely to follow the needs of a company when they feel their own emotional needs are met.

  • Brings agility to a dynamic globalized economy. In today’s economy, many businesses have diverse employees and clientele. Empathy acts as the first step to successful cross cultural communication because it builds a connection on human elements. If you embrace empathy you set yourself up for positive cultural interactions.

Empathy is a powerful communication tool, one that needs to be learned if you want to have successful business interactions. Emotional situations, such as conflict, are bound to arise in any professional setting. When emotions begin to take the lead in conversations, it will be to your benefit to focus on the problems at hand without reacting with unchecked emotions.

Examples Of Empathy In The Workplace

Sometimes it is helpful to see empathy in action. Here are a few examples:

  1. Listening to a customer complaint.

    Imagine you are a customer service representative at an airline. You get a call from a customer who is upset that their flight was cancelled at the last minute. They need to leave as soon as possible to go to a wedding.

    Using your empathy, you work extra hard and search for flights for this customer. Your airline does not have anything available until the next day, which is unacceptable. However, you use your back channel access to search for flights from another airline and book a ticket for the customer.

    In this example you use your empathy to understand the time sensitive nature of your customer’s issue. You go above and beyond and find a flight from a different airline.

  2. Giving feedback to a team member.

    You are part of a team working on a marketing campaign. At the first meeting you all present ideas. One of your team presents an idea that, although very creative, would cost more than the budget allows.

    You say to your teammate, “I think that is a great idea, but we would need to scale it back a bit to fit the budget. Do you think you could come up with something that has the same spirit as your original idea but would need less resources?”

    In this example, not only does your empathy gently inform the other team member about the impracticality of their idea, you ask a question to redirect your team member to a more accomplishable task.

  3. Assisting your supervisor.

    Your supervisor comes in one day and is very quiet. They spend all day in their office, which is not usually the case. Later you learn that their mother is very sick at the hospital.

    You know your supervisor normally needs to collect project updates from everyone in the department. You offer to your supervisor that you can do that for them.

    In a classic case of empathy, you know that it is tough for your supervisor to concentrate during this time, so you help them with their workload.

Final Thoughts

It may seem like an obvious skill or it may seem like a useless feel-good platitude, but empathy truly has an important impact on professional success. Employees work harder with bosses who value and understand their emotional state. Fellow employees work better with those who connect on an emotional level. Customers respond to emotional understanding.

In all cases, your use of empathy will dictate how you react to the emotional states of others. Even if you feel you already have a grasp of empathy, know that it can always be improved. Do not take for granted the human need for emotional bonding. Work out your empathy skills every day and you will find more positive opportunities in your professional life.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

Related posts