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NextGen Magazine


Leading with Empathy Can Be a Critical Workplace Strategy

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Dec 20, 2022


Empathy is an important driver of innovation, engagement, and inclusion, a survey by Catalyst, a global nonprofit that helps build workplaces that work for women, found. That being the case, Jotform CEO Ayetkin Tank, in Fast Company, offered four strategies for creating an empathic workplace.

First, he noted that Australian philosopher and author Roman Krznaric advises shaking up one's work routine by interacting with new people as a way of developing empathy. This is particularly important in an era of increased isolation from colleagues due to remote work or technologies such as Slack or email.

Tank reaches out to new team members regularly. He tries to invite a couple of different employees to coffee once a week, during which time they talk about anything but work. “It can be as simple as a quick walk, as long as you’re reaching beyond the normal names on your daily agenda,” he wrote.

Second, not having preconceptions about the other person is also useful, Tank wrote, citing the work of MIT Professor Sherry Turkle, author of The Empathy Diaries. “You can’t put yourself into someone else’s situation if you have preconceptions about its contours,” she wrote in the Harvard Business Review in February.

“Listening without preconceptions is the starting point for understanding someone else’s position,” Tank added. “Acknowledging what others are going through will ensure that they’re feeling heard.”

Third, he noted that that putting oneself in someone else’s shoes is not the best way to approach empathy, according to some experts. He quoted Daring Greatly author Brene Brown, who told the New York Times in 2020, “[I]t’s important that you don’t take on someone’s emotions to the extent that it becomes a burden, or that you co-opt their experience."

Finally, Tank recommends reading fiction. “To understand stories, we have to understand characters, their motivations, interactions, reactions, and goals,” York University Professor of Psychology Raymond Mar said in a December 2021 American Psychological Association article. “It’s possible that while understanding stories, we can improve our ability to understand real people in the real world at the same time.”

“This holiday season, use some of your down time to curl up with a good book—and build up your empathy skills,” concluded Tank. “Your team members will thank you.”