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Empathy to ethics: where heart meets business

Feb 16, 2022 Guest Contributor

Empathy to ethics: where heart meets business

Despite the way it’s often portrayed in modern media, business doesn’t have to be cutthroat. Modern business leaders across industries are taking a different approach in terms of client attraction and retention: Empathy. While the definition of empathy may differ between individuals, it generally describes one’s ability to relate with others on a personal level.

For many, empathy goes hand-in-hand with ethics, and it’s a skill that can be refined over time. The workplace is an ideal location to hone your empathy skills while learning from others, and their unique perspectives on life. By putting yourself in the shoes of someone whose life differs drastically from your own, you’re well on the way to developing skills that will serve you well over the long term.

And within an increasingly digital world where consumers have a nearly infinite number of purchasing choices, appealing to individual humanity is essential for continued business success. But learning new skills isn’t always easy, and developing business empathy may take time. What’s more, there may be drawbacks to listening to your heart rather than your head when making business decisions.

By balancing ethical considerations and empathy with business interests, you may just see your business thrive, with help from your partners and supporters. Here’s what you need to know about how empathy can impact team happiness, wellness, and productivity while boosting a company's bottom line and truly meeting customer needs.

Weighing the importance of empathy in business

Effective leadership requires numerous traits and skills, and empathy is one of the most important. Empathy is among the five components of emotional intelligence and is characterized by good listening skills and a lack of harsh judgment. True ethical leadership thus requires empathy, and emotion can help you to better understand the perspective of your employees and customer base alike.

Despite the positive nature of empathy, however, some business leaders view the concept a little differently, even speaking out against the potential drawbacks. In a 2019 Vox interview, for example, Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom discussed the case against empathy and why he believes that compassion should drive your business decisions. According to Bloom, while empathy and compassion share many similarities, their consequences can differ significantly.

Bloom believes that the over-emphasis of empathy has the potential to cloud your thinking when working through important business matters. As an action, empathy is typically well-intentioned but can also foster bias, ultimately leading to impulsive and/or unethical decisions. For this reason, you must consider all sides and give both emotion and logic equal weight in all decisions that affect your business.

Creating a more ethical, understanding workplace

As you work to become a stronger, more effective team leader, empathy can take you far. No matter your industry or company size, empathy and compassion for others serve as the backbone of the team-building process. And much like promoting emotional health and wellness in the workplace, business empathy is best performed from the top down, at every level of your company.

For the greatest chance of success when it comes to creating a more ethical workplace, lead by example, and work hard to get to know your employees. Interestingly, the global pandemic provides business leaders with an opportunity to better understand employee needs, as every human on the planet has been affected by Covid in some way. Listen to your staff, and offer support during these difficult times.

Start by identifying any problem areas in the workplace that might be negatively impacting employee performance and morale. Then, offer tangible solutions in the form of mental health tips advocating for self-care. Encourage your employees who are struggling to get enough sleep and make sure they aren’t taking on more than they can handle at any given time. High-level executives should also consider spending time on the front lines to get a better sense of what your staff must deal with every day.

Empathy can help you to identify issues, such as workplace microaggressions, and eliminate them before they get out of hand. According to Baker College, workplace microaggressions can be environmental, behavioral, or verbal. They are usually subtle, making them difficult to pinpoint, and tend to affect members of marginalized groups in greater numbers. No matter the form they take, from microinsults to threatening emails, workplace microaggressions can create major staff conflicts over time.

Working together for the greater good

To successfully address poor communication or workplace microaggression, try to look at the issue from an empathetic standpoint. If you were experiencing a similar situation, how would it affect your job performance? Approach the situation from every angle, using your head while cultivating greater empathy and compassion for your fellow humans.

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, your business needs to stand out if you have any hope of long-term viability. Even as your business continues to grow, don’t overlook the importance of the human touch to ensure continued employee satisfaction and profit margins. Put yourself on equal ground with staff at every level, and keep empathy at the heart of your business.

About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of topics but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to business productivity and marketing strategies.

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