Most leaders would probably agree that business ultimately comes down to one thing: relationships. Making and maintaining strong connections with others will no doubt help a business leader thrive, and a key trait that helps to nurture those relationships is empathy.

By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. For example, do you recognize and appropriately respond to others' emotions? In essence, empathy is the act of perspective-taking and, in practice, high-functioning teams emerge, they work well together, and produce better, faster work.

To explain what happens when you take empathy and infuse it into your workplace, I sought some expert insights from two leaders that embody empathy.

1. Empathy creates a productive and supportive work environment

When team members support one another to succeed and think outside the box, they're able to move the needle without fear of failure, which leads to innovative ideas. Creativity is the driving force behind strong teams and successful businesses.

This is the perspective of Will Bartholomew, CEO and founder of D1 Training, a fitness franchise. He relies heavily on the encouragement of empathy to drive the performance and happiness of his employees. 

"When you are aware of everyone's baseline performance, you'll be able to detect when something is amiss. Instead of harping on someone for a string of recent mistakes, ask them how they're feeling. The answer will likely surprise you as poor work performance is often tied to a completely different issue -- an issue that you can then address head-on," Bartholomew says.

2. Empathy builds resilience

In a recent episode of the Love in Action podcast, Michael Ventura, the founder and CEO of design and strategy firm Sub Rosa and author of Applied Empathy, shared, "The only way to build resilient and collaborative teams is by practicing empathy." 

While you can't measure empathy, Ventura says you can measure its effects: companies are more resilient and responsive in the market. As a result, decision making becomes more collaborative. 

When you operate with positivity and encouragement and you build on one another's strengths, you build resilience and profitability and long term value into your organization, Ventura explains. 

Start by asking questions and being a good listener, Ventura advises. That's the gateway to deeper empathy.

3. Empathy drives better decision making

Having an understanding of different viewpoints is one of the key characteristics of an empathetic person. It also happens to be a common trait among great decision-makers.

"By encouraging your teams to evaluate varying perspectives, they will be more confident and make better decisions at every level. When you can trust your teams to make important decisions on the fly, you're able to place your attention elsewhere and continue to grow," Bartholomew says.

Empathy during a pandemic

Empathy is key during the current pandemic because people are scared. To help alleviate anxiety, exercising your emotional intelligence helps you understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within his or her frame of reference, whether a customer or fellow employee. Having the capacity to empathize with someone else's experience or challenge is key for uniting teams and banding together with peers and co-workers as we face new realities together.

As you assess where people are in the crisis, ask simple questions to address any of their concerns first. This places confidence in their eyes that you have their best interests in mind. For example: 

  • What do you need an immediate answer to?
  • Where can I focus my efforts and attention to better support you right now?
  • What's in the way of you achieving your goals right now?