Empathy at the Workplace: A Double-Edged Sword

Empathy at the Workplace: A Double-Edged Sword

Last year, I found myself on a Briefing Call with a major tech company. Their goal? Bring in a speaker who can start a conversation to encourage a culture where employees communicate effectively.

As our conversation progressed, the word ‘empathy’ inevitably surfaced.

I offered them a scenario to ponder: Imagine an environment where everyone’s encouraged to be their most vulnerable, raw selves.

Picture this - someone walking in one day, announcing, “My wife just left me.” While it’s of the essence to offer support, if everyone’s continuously laying their emotions bare, the workplace can quickly spiral into an emotional whirlwind.

Empathy has been a buzzword for some time now and I get it, employee’s want to be mindful and are focused on wellbeing but…. I personally don’t think it’s healthy to go to work and be consumed by your colleagues life’s challenges. If we open the floor to over sharing it could be disastrous.

Empathy is celebrated for its depth and connection, however at times, diving too deep into empathy can be paralyzing. It can entangle us in emotions so deeply that we become incapacitated, unable to make crucial decisions or drive forward.

Now, transpose this into a corporate setting. Imagine an entire team operating on high empathy. The emotional undercurrents could quickly spiral into transferable stress, turning the workplace into a minefield of emotional triggers. Not the most conducive environment for productivity, is it?

One of my favourite keynote talks is titled “The Power of Compassion” compassion is the metacognitive alternative to empathy.

Empathy is all about feelings and compassion is rooted in understanding but accompanied by actionable insight, compassion strikes the balance.

It ensures understanding emotions but allows for pragmatic decisions, keeping the wheels of productivity turning.

What I’ve found is that when we talk about organisational culture, we don’t need a sea of empaths. We need compassionate thinkers.
So, for decision-makers, HR professionals, or anyone shaping corporate cultures. It’s time to
shift the narrative.

I like the idea of champion compassion over empathy.

For in compassion lies the key to understanding without being consumed, and to drive forward without leaving anyone behind.

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