Empathy in the Workplace

Posted October 18, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

We’ve told you about gaslighting and on Wednesday, we talked about how men and women view power differently. One thing women are often accused of is being “too sensitive” to lead, or “too emotional” to hold power. I’ll admit, I am a more sensitive person, and I’ve learned to own it — even though the word “sensitive” is now loaded with a lot of negative connotations. Sensitivity seems to be equated with weakness, but I’ve learned that’s only true if you use your sensitivity in the wrong manner. To me, sensitivity is not about crying at every bad thing that happens or getting angry when I’m receiving constructive criticism — it’s really about having empathy. It’s about putting your heart into everything that is important to you.

A writing professor once told me that it was good to be sensitive and empathetic — it made me a better writer. I firmly believe that that is true. To write well, you you need to get inside the minds of others and look at their motivations, as well as your own. I believe that empathy will also make me a better manager and employee. One thing I noticed in some managers I’ve had in the past is a lack of understanding and an unwillingness to see viewpoints other than their own. I know now that I want to be a leader who listens, who cares about how her employees are doing. And I’m not talking about being weak or bowing to everyone else’s wants and needs. I’m talking about being able to see the other side of the story.

On Wednesday, I talked about Dr. Arin Reeves, the author and president of Nextions. During her speech about women and power, someone in the audience brought up empathy. And something Dr. Reeves said really resonated with me: Being empathetic is different than pleasing people. Empathy can be a part of your power.

I’m sick of empathy being equated with weakness. It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, use empathy to be a different kind of leader, a stronger leader: one who listens, understands, and asserts herself with a combination of facts and intuition. I think that people often like to call those of us with empathy “too sensitive” because they’re scared of it, and because it’s too hard to have it. Life is much easier if you just do what you want, and don’t take the time to consider others. But empathy makes us better communicators and decision-makers. Empathy helps us relate better to our employees and our customers. So, whatever you do, Career Girls — don’t lose it.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website www.marcyfarrey.com.


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