How to improve empathy in the workplace

Why is improving empathy in the workplace important? 

Most people want to work in caring workplaces where they feel accepted and as a valued member of the team.   Empathy – helps us connect to one another and is one way to help encourage that feeling of connectedness we all desire and that helps work teams collaborate more effectively.

How do you effectively improve empathy throughout your workplace? 

One way is to make space and time for people to bring their whole selves and share their joys and sorrows as a team. This takes an amazing amount of trust.  This is why it’s probably better to start by having conversations about dignity and compassion.  What does it mean to treat colleagues with dignity and compassion?  What does it mean to treat customers with dignity and compassion?  Once a dignity and compassion mindset has taken root – you will find that levels of empathy have naturally increased as you are making caring – a regular part of the workplace conversation and expectations.  Empathy should grow naturally once the conditions have been set for it.

What steps do you take to help employees improve empathy if it doesn't come naturally to them?

You don’t. Part of having empathy is understanding that everyone is wired differently. And that’s ok. It is wrong to try and make a fish climb a tree. If empathy doesn’t come naturally to someone – trying to force them to be empathetic – is rather cruel. All an employer can and should do – is create the conditions in which ethical and caring behavior can grow. Those that want that level of motivation in their lives – with take that on. Those who don’t want that or are not naturally inclined won’t. But an empathetic workplace makes equal space for everyone and doesn’t shame people for people for not being exactly like everyone else. Which is why – focusing on dignity and compassion – will get your further than an emphasis on compassion.

I teach humanistic management and am the author of the new book – Applied Humanism: How to create more ethical and effective businesses.

You can check out my online courses or hire me to do a training for your staff here -

And learn about my new book here:

How to help kids/people learn

My friend Amanda is a teacher – and she’s running for political office. She shared this – and I want to share it with you.

“I'm reading my students' bellwork answers from the week and I'm loving some of their answers. I asked them to write a list of 10 ways I can take care of them this year. Here's a sampling of what they wrote...

-Do a back flip every time we get a question right (do they EVEN know me?!)
-Take us outside
-Show us courage
-Help us not be failures
-Tell us jokes and make us laugh
-Be real
-Keep being you
-Tell us stories
-Help me be a better writer
-Make me comfortable
-Listen to me
-Go slow with me. I want to learn, but I need your help.
-Give us treats/snacks/candy/mints (SO many of this response!)
-Be there for me
-Dance around the classroom
-Be easy to talk to
-Help me learn English
-Teach me to pronounce words correctly
-Be open to stupid questions”

I think this is applicable to all people everywhere.  How awesome would it be if we treated – everyone this way?

To learn more about Amanda - here is her linkedin:

Her book:

And - because it's seriously awesome that a friend of mine and a teacher is running for office and you should totally support her - here is her campaign website -

How to deal with toxic bosses

I just delivered a program for FL SHRM on How to Humanistically Handle Bad Bullying Bosses. It should be available through my company Humanist learning Systems soon.

I teach how to use behavioral techniques to get unwanted behavior to stop.

 The short version of how to deal with toxic bosses is this: 

  1. Be explicitly about what the behavior is that is problematic.  Do they eat too loudly during lunch? Are they punching people? Withholding information? Calling people names?
  2. Think of your boss compassionately. Most people don’t behave well when stressed out – help manage things so that they are less stressed.
  3. CYA by documenting EVERYTHING. Do this to help clear up communication problems (and toxic bosses – have communication issues). And keep doing that. This will help make sure that a) you behave at your best and b) will encourage them to act good too.

When you do this – if they are well meaning – they will respond to your attempt to reset the relationship with good intentions.  The good news is that most people fall into this category.

If they are really toxic and not in control of their behavior – they will start to behave worse as they lose control over the dynamic.  Most toxic employees and bosses – are toxic because they are bullies. When bullies are no longer able to use aggression to intimidate people into doing what they want – they do the one thing that has always worked for them – which is to get more aggressive. Just keep documenting and being professional.

The bad news is – if your boss is truly toxic – you won’t be able to change them.  Your only realistic goals is to either get them fired or to find another job.  But you won’t know if they fall into this category until you at least try to reset the relationship.

Finally – dignity – it’s key.  Treat them with dignity – even if they don’t treat others with dignity. Here’s why.  No one can take your dignity away from you.  No one. If someone fails to treat you with dignity – that is a reflection on them, not on you. The more dignity you give – the more dignified you are.  It’s an unlimited resource.  If someone else is set on being undignified – don’t’ join them. You can politely and professionally – encourage them to choose a more dignified and professional course of actions – but if they are toxic – they are going to behave toxic-ly. All you can do is maintain your professionalism and your dignity. Feeling compassion for them will help you not be bothered and not take what they are doing personally.

If you want to learn how to deal with bullies and other toxic people in the workplace - consider taking one of my online courses - or hiring me to do a group training -

Can I condition myself to be happy in the morning (be a morning person)?

Yes. You can condition yourself to be a better morning person. Habit and behavior formation is well studied and just takes time to accomplish.

1) set a regular time to get up and don’t push snooze. Just - get up and get started. Will you be cranky at first? Of course. That’s part of the learning process. Accept it as part of the learning process and don’t let your cranky get in the way of actually getting up.
2) Congratulate yourself on getting up. How awesome is it. Yes - you are tired and cranky - but you still got out of bed when you wanted to.
3) Find a nice way to use the extra morning time you just gave yourself. Indulge in a little something to reward yourself. Only do this when you actually get up and get going.
4) Remind yourself how awesome you are for getting up even when you don’t want to.

After about 1 month - it should be a habit and you will feel better about getting up on time and be way less cranky about it.

If you want to learn more about the science of behavior and habit formation - and more importantly - habit unlearning - check out my online course here:

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