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Entrepreneurship is normally associated with traits like power, strength and audacity, but soft skills like empathy and connection are just as important for entrepreneurial success, if not more so. According to Businessolver’s 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study, 87 percent of CEOs agree that a company’s financial performance is intricately tied to compassion.

Unfortunately, workers indicate they aren’t experiencing enough of the trait in the workplace. That’s perhaps due, in part, to the way technology disrupts the way we empathize with others. The same study found that while 96 percent of employees believe it’s essential for employers to demonstrate empathy, 92 percent of employees also believe organizations are under-valuing the invaluable trait.

By creating empathetic business environments and policies that encourage authentic connections with employees, small business leaders are able to better support their employees and develop the structure necessary to build highly successful enterprises.

Here are a few significant ways to foster empathy and connection in your small business:

1. Encourage Professional Support

If leaders want to promote a culture of empathy, it needs to come from the top down. CEOs can invest time and understanding in their employees, for example, by encouraging collaborative conversations instead of transactional relationships. As a small business leader, working in the trenches helps gain trust and insight into the everyday tasks your employees undertake. 

As leaders maintain a hands-on presence, they should also require other executives and managers to meet with different employees (including workers in other departments) every week. This exposure helps higher-ups identify the personal and business challenges each individual faces while allowing leaders to practice the patience and understanding needed to create supportive and professional relationships.

2. Create Service-Oriented Practices

Incorporating service-oriented practices within your company can highlight your compassion for your team. Coined by American educator and businessman, Stephen Covey, these practices utilize empathetic traits to show employees how to treat their customers. Some essential ways to build empathy in your company are through basic communication skills:

Listen and Ask for Feedback: Learn about the concerns and need of your employees. Asking them for feedback is crucial to understanding different concerns and perspectives. Use survey findings and employee focus group interviews to examine the benefits and culture changes they need. Considering people’s concerns is a hallmark characteristic of empathy, so leaders that make listening a priority can expect to benefit from a higher level of trust loyalty.

Inspire Open and Honest Conversations: Authentic and transparent conversations allow leaders to identify any underlying issues within their companies. Leaders should consider addressing professional stress, for example, during general discussions that offer advice on how to cope with workplace issues. There are other ways to form bonds and support employees, too. Organizing a lunch meeting where leaders share inspiring stories of their own professional hardships before they reached success can provide honest and helpful examples for employees who feel pressure at work. Honesty opens up the conversation for others to share their needs at work. Empathetic leaders can better identify and understand the root causes behind poor performance and allow them to help struggling employees improve.

3. Offer Empathy Training

Soft skills don’t come easy for everybody. Two-third of employees surveyed in the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study reported that they think it’s difficult for most people at their companies to demonstrate empathy consistently. But with the right training and guidance, building empathy can become a reality for many dysfunctional work teams and companies. Proven effective in helping interpersonal relationships grow, empathy training teaches employees to develop their communication skills and emotional intelligence so they can connect with and understand the perspectives, emotions and motivations of others. For example, trainees are advised on how to develop interpersonal characteristics like learning to ask people more questions or focusing on coworkers’ similarities rather than their differences.

The same empathy study referenced above shows the majority of employees are interested in participating in these training workshops or consulting outside specialists. The survey also showed that 90 percent of CEOs felt they could make the case for empathy training in their organizations.

Empathy training has worked in the past. Telefonica Germany, for example, implemented such a program within their company and saw customer satisfaction rates increase by 6 percent within a month and a half. With empathy training, employees can learn valuable lessons and increase their productivity through more positive ways of working.

Empathy Helps Companies Evolve

Just because leaders are busy running a company, doesn’t mean they need to dismiss the emotional needs of their most valuable assets: the employees that help the business operate on a daily basis. Empathy and connection are the cornerstones of a cohesive business and have been shown to increase engagement, productivity, sales and loyalty. As small business owners, our role is simple: build connections through empathy to watch our teams blossom and, overall, sustain company growth. 

About the Author(s)

Debrah Lee Charatan

Debrah Lee Charatan is an entrepreneur and real estate veteran widely recognized for her experience brokering, investing and developing commercial, residential and mixed-use properties in the New York City area.

President, BCB Property Management
Debrah Lee Charatan Compassion and Empathy in Business SCORE