Empathy matters: Growing a better work culture

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Posted Feb 25, 2022
Trevor Brown

Confidence, knowledge, and the ability to handle stress are all qualities that make a great leader. In the business world, it’s essential to strategize and take control of your mission to accomplish set objectives. But many fail to realize that empathy has a big role to play in leadership.

Empathy lets us understand other people’s feelings and see things from their point of view. Understanding and relating to those you serve and work with can help lay the foundation for success. And leaders who demonstrate empathy may experience greater buy-in and foster a better working culture among their teams. 

But how exactly does empathy work, and how can it be applied to research in a meaningful way? Let’s jump in and explore!

Are we naturally wired for empathy?

Philosophical debates over human nature have raged for thousands of years. Are humans good at heart or, as is frequently quipped, just a few meals away from anarchy? Do we genuinely care about our fellow man, or is the only thing stopping us from destroying each other the societal laws and barriers put in place by the most powerful among us?

Is empathy hardwired into us, or is it something we learn?

There are no simple answers to some of life’s most complex questions. However, it’s generally agreed that the truth lies somewhere in the middle when it comes to empathy. Humans are born possessing a certain amount of empathy, which enabled us to cooperate and survive throughout history. Still, we must continually learn to relate to others and respond appropriately to their feelings. 

A recent University of Virginia study found that we are most capable of feeling empathy for those closest to us, including our friends, spouses, and family. The brains of 22 young adult participants underwent fMRI scans, where researchers monitored their brain waves to detect activity while under the threat of receiving mild electrical shocks either to themselves, a friend, or a stranger.

Unsurprisingly, the brain regions responsible for threat response became active under the threat of shock to the self. This activity level was nearly identical to the pattern displayed under threat of electric shock to a friend but died down significantly when notified of a potential shock to the stranger. UVA’s study suggests that we perceive the threat of injury to loved ones as strongly as we do ourselves, but still struggle to feel pain for total strangers.

Given this information, the challenge is learning to empathize with those we don’t know. These emotional skills are essential to succeeding as a business leader, as you need to hear different perspectives and work to find common ground with those around you.

Empathy: The most important leadership skill of all?

Technical skills have always been prized in the workplace—even at the expense of soft skills related to interpersonal connections. Nowadays, that’s beginning to change as more people recognize the importance of empathizing with those they encounter within the work environment. 

Forbes outlines several benefits of empathy, all of which pertain to business—the first of which can actually help us establish our own identity. Rather than remaining stuck in our own frame of mind at all times, empathizing with others and learning to see the world through their eyes can help us grow in unrealized ways. 

Maya Angelou famously noted, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Empathy can help foster the kind of cooperation that’s critical to the success of any business. Leaders play an especially crucial role in helping team members work together and offer suggestions on pooling brainpower for maximum results.

Empathy in company culture

Empathy is important for many reasons, and it can be especially beneficial in the workplace. If you’re just getting started with your business, for example, you’ll need to bring others on board with your ideas. No one wants to work with someone that fails to heed their advice or only wants to do their own thing, so as a leader, it’s crucial to listen to your team and understand their point of view.

It’s well-known that empathy can help us build better social bonds, but it can also help us avoid burnout at our jobs. This result shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering that the more we can empathize with our coworkers, the better we can communicate with them. The stronger our communication skills, the more comfortable we feel expressing our feelings. We can build a stronger culture and perform better overall by airing our feelings in the open and letting others know when something is or is not working for us. 

Empathy in market research

When it comes to market research, it’s true that being able to empathize with consumers shows them that we see them as people. It shows that we recognize their unique needs and make an attempt to understand what they’re all about on a personal level.

This fact is especially true when it comes to advertising. While ads are geared towards both the “thinking” and “feeling” parts of our brains, the feeling aspect may hold greater weight. Based on ad campaign performance, 31% of ads with emotional pull succeeded versus 16% of ads that focused on more rational content. Common themes in successful ads include pride, love, achievement, and even negative feelings like loneliness.

Demonstrating empathy through your advertisements lets consumers know that you see them in their joy—and their pain. You must show them how your product or service is relevant to their lives. This ability is one of the key benefits of growing your empathy as a business leader.

We prioritize empathy at aytm

To us, research is all about empathy. Not only is empathy one of our core values, but we believe it’s one of the most parts of our panel technology. We strive to empathize with the people behind our panel—those who are eager to take surveys and share their opinions. This even goes into the way we design respondent experience, taking care not to overburden people or give false incentivization—keeping things short and sweet and showing we care. Why? Because we care, and because we truly believe that if you give people respect, they’ll give you honesty.