3 Habits of Empathy to Help You Connect with Colleagues at Workplace

Empathy in Societies

As neuroscientists discovered more than 10 years ago, empathy, the ability to feel, identify and understand other people’s emotions, is deeply wired in our brains. Empathy seems to be the building block of morality and the key to successful relationships at work and in personal life.

In Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, empathy was a major theme:

“There is a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant cleaning your dorm room.”

Obama emphasised the vital role of people having empathy for one another as a part of the solution to major social problems and their symptoms in American society: fragmented communities, decreased civic engagement, and deepened individualism. Many analysts believe that European countries face similar social problems resulting from the lack of empathy, as Roman Krznaric writes in Empathy, Why It Matters and How To Get It.

It Pays Off to Be Empathic

David Deming of Harvard University considers empathy, among other social skills, to be increasingly important for a variety of jobs, not only health care workers, therapists and others at the interface with customers also benefit greatly. Empathy is also important for software engineers and managers especially, in workplaces where collaboration is required.


Deming’s study shows that in the last 10 years, the labour market rewards the professionals with social skills. For example, nowadays, a programmer with good math skills and high social skills gets higher income than a programmer with similar math skills but lower social skills.


Programmers and any other professional working in an organization are more likely to get along and work efficiently as team members if they have the ability to understand the experiences and circumstances of their colleagues. The exercise of empathy between team members may result in an all inclusive working culture, where members of the team have the feeling of being seen, heard and appreciated for their contribution.   

The Choice of Growing the Empathetic Muscle

For some people, empathy may be natural to express in interactions at work. For others, it may require more conscious effort, especially when the working memory is overloaded with thousand tasks.


The good news is that empathy can be developed by consciously choosing to practice it in everyday life. Inspired by George Orwell’s model, Krznaric recommends to try another person’s life as a habit to foment empathy. George Orwell collected the material for his book, Down and Out in Paris and London, after living as a beggar in the streets of Paris and East London. This experience radically changed his beliefs, priorities and relationships.

“I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed.”, Orwell wrote.


Curious to Listen

In the workplace, you don’t need to move in with your colleague to understand more about his life. It may suffice to have short coffee breaks weekly and have the genuine curiosity to learn more about his life. Listen carefully to what’s important to him.


Curious to See

Further foster the curiosity about others lives by asking to see photos of their children and beloved ones. Looking at the photos of the people who are most important for colleagues enables us to acknowledge their individuality and perspectives.   


Open Attitude

Be a supportive team member by guessing what might be going on with your colleagues, what concerns and hesitations they might have about a particular project. Reach out to them and open the discussion. Put aside for a while your role in the project. Instead cultivate an open attitude to understand other points of view.      


On a scale from 0 to 10, how natural it is to you to want to understand more about different standpoints?


What new beliefs would you want to embrace?


What would be the positive intention behind embracing the new beliefs?


What story do you tell yourself about other team members?   

“… We are confident when the story we tell ourselves comes easily to mind, with no contradiction and no competing scenario. But ease and coherence do not guarantee that a belief held with confidence is true. … ” (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, pp. 239)

What is the truth that you are looking for when interacting with others at work?

Empathy is the skill that gives us the sense of being connected to the people at work, in the family and community. The more we are willing to practice empathy, the more we’ll see the common humanity we share with others and we’ll respect their individuality. Not to mention that it is fun and stimulating to be in a group of individuals of complementary strengths, behaviours and ideas.   


This post was originally published as a guest post on Panda-Training blog. Panda-Training is a Finnish startup with the vision of bringing transparency of competition and collaboration to the corporate training industry.

Why Everybody Needs a Coach

In the last 3 years since I’ve been a certified coach, whenever I would mention to someone what I do for a living, people would look with a confused face, for few seconds and say,“So … you are some kind of a consultant?”, “I see! You are a cook. ”, or ask with honesty, “What is a coach?”


The coaching profession has been around since 1990’s. In 1995, professional coach Thomas Leonard founded the International Coach Federation (ICF) in the United States with the aim of supporting coaches and helping one another to grow the profession.


A brief history


One year later, in 1996, ICF had 400 subscribers, an appointed president and a board of directors. In 2000, ICF grew at a rate of 130 new members per month, from Europe, Australia and Asia. By 2016, the structure and activities provided by ICF have diversified to support a growing community of professional coaches specialized in fields, such as: leadership and executive coaching, internal and organizational coaching, positive psychology, health and wellness coaching, life coaching, etc.


Thus, professional coaching has a roughly 2 decades history and its development shows how the profession has evolved to match the needs of the clients. So, what is coaching and who needs it?


What coaching is


The ICF definition of professional coaching is that of a “ … partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment…


At the heart of coaching is the relationship between the client (interchangeably used with the term “coachee” from now on) and the coach, which involves a deeper level of trust and intimacy so that the coach can understand the beliefs, values, habits, and expertise of the coachee. Only at this deeper level of understanding, the coach is able to ask questions that provoke the thinking and creativity of the client who is working towards a specific goal at work or in personal life.


The ICF definition continues: “… Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole…


The responsibility of the coach is not to assume or judge anything about the client’s life. The only assumption of the coach is to believe that the client possesses the inner resources for reaching his/her goals. This belief is reflected in the questions that the professional coach asks with the aim of encouraging the client to grow awareness in their thinking and emotional landscape.


The ICF definition ends with, “…Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:


  • Discover, clarify, and align with that the client wants to achieve


  • Encourage client self-discovery


  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies


  • Hold the client responsible and accountable.


This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.”     


We can see now that the professional coach is not a consultant, who is a professional who has knowledge in a specific field and helps the client by making use of that knowledge and providing a recommended set of actions. The professional coach is not a cook either, preparing a meal for the client to fill in the emotional holes.


The coach is not your friend either. Let’s say you are telling to your friend, “I’ve been thinking to change job.

Your friend might answer, “What’s wrong with your current job?

Your friend may have the best interest at heart and want to help you, without realising that she just asked a problem-focused question. This is what the brain is normally doing, it focuses too much on the problem, which makes us feel frustrated and anxious.

Instead, the coach may ask, “How long have you been thinking about this?“. This way, your proactive thinking gets activated and slowly the conversation moves on to empowering you find solutions to your dilemma.

The professional coach respects the client’s view on the world, and through powerful questions, supports and challenges the coachee to update their own view on the world by changing the perspective on it.


Who needs coaching


We go to eat at a restaurant because we feel hungry or want to socialize with friends. We hire an architect because we want to build the house of our dreams. We go see a doctor because we can’t take the physical pain anymore. These needs for food, warmth, water, safety are primary needs, at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs .


The need for coaching is a personal growth need, at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.


Life circumstances and our conditioning dictate how much attention we give to these needs. What’s certain is that many of us experience life changes – such as loss of someone beloved, divorce, being fired, moving to another town/country, company mergers, etc. One of the best ways to manage and enjoy life is to learn how to grow with life. How to fulfil our full potential in line with everything that happens around us.  


In the last 3 months, how many times did you feel that you are standing alone in face of uncertainty? At least I feel this way once in a while. 


The professional coach is the person who is there for you, creating the safe space for you to think about what is it that you can do best, in certain circumstances and take practical steps. The coach is a human being who walks with you the path of life, for a period of three to six months.   


I have experienced how it is to be coached about some personal dilemmas. I’ve been fascinated how good it feels to sit down with another person, the coach, who actually listens to me. In addition, feeling the supportive energy inspired me to look for some answers of my own. At the end of the coaching session, I may not have seen the solution but I felt energised to have some insight into my inner world.


How would the world be if, at certain stages in life, we walked the coaching journey to realise our vision as a parent, partner, co-worker, and kinder human being?