A little empathy among colleagues goes a long way

To demonstrate more empathy in the workplace, you can:

  • Make sure you are listening to others. Be sure to get feedback from others regarding how good of a listener you really are.
  • Listen without interrupting. Pay attention to what others are saying and to their nonverbal behaviors and cues.
  • Ask questions, then listen if you are trying to understand why someone is struggling at work or has poor performance.
  • Spend time getting to know those you don’t like or are very different from you. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I don’t like that man, so I must get to know him.”
  • Read up on emotional intelligence and take an assessment on your EQ and empathy.
  • At meetings, ask colleagues to share how they are doing both personally and professionally.
  • Keep the focus on them. Use phrases to show you are listening to them rather than sympathetic statements that seem to focus on yourself — e.g., “you seem to be trying to figure out what to do next” rather than “I always do XYZ when I am not sure.”
  • Use reflecting comments — “it sounds like you are worried about …” — rather than providing immediate advice, such as “this is what you should do now.”


Joyce E. A. Russell is the senior associate dean at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.


Detail from Labor, Charles Sprague Pearce (1896).