Importance of Empathy at Work

Work almost always involves collaborating with people and organizations. All of these people and organizations have their own goals and priorities. More often than not those will probably conflict with your own goals and priorities. But, you know that somehow you need to create alignment with your collaborators to accomplish your objectives.

How do you do this?


(btw, I did a podcast on this topic. If listening is more your thing – check it out here.)

My Empathy Framework

It’s probably a little bit sad that I have a checklist for how to be empathetic. But, I think it’s good to have a top of mind list. It helps to remind me that my priorities are not necessarily those of my friends and colleagues.

Be inquisitive about your collaborator’s world

Truly develop an interest in what others are doing around you. What do they want or need to achieve? What are they working on? What are they good at?

Whenever you meet or chat (even online) don’t start with you’re need. Genuinely ask them about what is going on in their world. Send an occasional email that only focuses on them, not your latest ask. Check in on one of their projects that don’t involve you or on an offhanded personal remark they made on the last call–upcoming vacation, kid graduating, sick family member.

Most importantly, and I’m horribly guilty of neglecting this when someone is talking to you and drifts off into personal or topics unrelated to your current agenda or project–listen! Taking the time to intentionally focus and be engaged in these moments are the most important times to build a personal and professional relationship. You have time. Take it and listen intently.

Spend a little time learning your collaborator’s domain

There is no quicker way to build trust and confidence with a partner than with a little domain knowledge.

Taking the time to understand what they do and how their job works instantly make you a more valuable partner. The less time they need to educate you on the basics the more time you all can spend collaborating at the intersection of your domains, executing a successful collaborative project.

There really is no excuse to go into any collaboration without at least a cursory knowledge of your partner’s domain. Given 30 minutes on the Internet, I can become at least conversant, at least in the lexicon, of any domain.

This 30 minutes will make any collaboration more productive and increase your probability of successful outcomes.

Take the time to write it up

Nothing forces you to think more critically about a topic or challenge than to be forced to “write it up.” If you’re working on a project that involves more than yourself, actually I would advocate even the ones that involve yourself, you should write it up.

As you go through this process you will start discovering all the things that derail projects–incomplete details, missing pieces, lacking skill sets. All things that tend to frustrate and prevent your collaborators from efficiently getting to work assisting you in executing.

There is a whole different discussion to be had about writing up a project versus having a meeting about a project. Here is my short version.

Most people don’t properly prepare for meetings. Rarely is there an agenda and even more rarely has anyone but the meeting organizer, and often times not even them, have thought a moment about the topic prior to a meeting. As a result, you get tasks like, “We should build a website, or a new landing page, improve our Adwords conversion, or start a Facebook ad campaign.” Guess how many of those things are going to get done before the next meeting? Right, none. There is nothing useful in those outcomes. However, if you write it up and as you read those statements here, it is glaringly apparent that you need to flush out the details.

Here are my quick “writing things up” checklist:

  1. What is my one specific outcome that would make this a success?
  2. What are the steps that I think will help make this happen?
  3. Who do I think needs to be involved? What roles will they play and what skills do I think are important for them to bring to the task?
  4. How long do I think it will take, based on my current knowledge?
  5. What do I think will be the hardest parts of this task/project?
  6. Request for the team’s input and perspective to refine the task/project and timeline? The power of writing things up is that you give all your collaborators as many considered details as possible. They also have the added benefit of being able to consume a complete set of requirement on their timeline as your collaboration conveniently fits into their personal workflow.

Make getting what you need as easy as possible for your collaborator

Help your collaborators get you what you need without having to analyze the whole project. Do your best to break your project into small, discrete tasks. Find ways to collect information and assets is simple efficient ways.

If you need questions answered, create a brief survey. If you need assets located or created, include examples or references. If you need the copy, do an interview and create from the transcript.

Do your very best to empathetically consider your collaborators’ time.

The point of the matter is to think just as hard about how to get what you need as you do about what you need. This will make you a better partner on any project, especially if the project is important to your personal success.

Empathy Makes You a Better Partner

The more time you take to understand the people you work with; what they do, what’s important to them, and how they work the better results you will get in collaborating. Use that knowledge to be a better partner.

photo credit: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash