How to Promote a Culture of Empathy on Your Team

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This article originally appeared on on November 23rd, 2020.

Considering everything happening in the world, empathy has never been more important. Amid a global pandemic that has caused people to worry about their own well-being and the well-being of others around them, we all need understanding and compassion.

This extends beyond personal relationships, too. Consumers want compassion and empathy from the businesses they frequent. When they find it, both parties benefit. One study showed that increased empathy results in better customer experiences, company innovation, and business success. When innovators worked to understand their customers’ problems and needs, that empathy helped them make better strategic decisions in sales, production, and leadership.

And leadership is really what it’s all about. A culture of empathy starts at the top. It can’t be taught or forced. Instead, leaders have to encourage and set the standard when it comes to self-awareness, compassion for others, and listening. When they show their teams they care, it fosters a similar mindset throughout the business.

In a recent survey, 80% of CEOs said empathy was the key to success. Cultures of empathy led to stronger collaboration, better morale, less stress, and enhanced resilience during challenging moments. Here are three ways leaders can create a culture of empathy and place caring at the core of everything they do:

1. Highlight the right norms.

There is power in drawing attention to behavior that exemplifies empathy. When you see people in your organization showing compassion and working together, shine a light on them. Identify the people who connect with others, and recruit them to champion that cause. As people lead by example and showcase the power of empathy, it will become a norm that other team members embrace. You can even create incentives and recognition programs to move people to adopt empathy in everything they do.

2. Set the example yourself.

Empathy and caring start with you. Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BELFOR Property Holdings Inc., crafts hand-written thank-you notes, anniversary cards, and holiday letters to his employees. He even writes to employees’ children when they’re sick, all of which he believes helps create a culture of empathy in his company.

“It’s also something that doesn’t have to cost a thing,” Yellen said. “When I learn of random acts of kindness being performed in the field, I take it upon myself to, again, reach out in writing. I send a thank-you card so that person can know they are appreciated and that their efforts don’t go unnoticed.”

3. Make empathy a business practice — not just a motto.

Finally, don’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk. Chewy, one of the largest, most recognizable pet supply websites in the country, has established itself as a brand built on kindness. The team goes above and beyond to express empathy when customers lose a pet by sending flowers, refunds, and condolence cards. When customers are ready to someday adopt their next pet, Chewy has already shown them how much they care — and positioned itself as a brand that consumers will return to down the road. There is no better value than a genuine compassion for others.

Compassion might not be a core element of business school curriculum, but companies that find ways of genuinely empathizing with their customers will be better equipped to handle challenges like recessions and pandemics. Ultimately, business success is rooted in showing customers compassion and understanding. By weaving compassion and empathy through every layer of your business, you’ll end up making decisions that boost your productivity, morale, and resilience.

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