Apathy to Empathy at Work

Apathy to Empathy

By: Georgia Reynolds, People-Centered Professional Development for Small Teams and Businesses

Getting Curious  

Our apathy and empathy can be impacted by everything from public to personal experience. Understanding how to transform your apathy into empathy begins first with being able to identify the things that shape your emotional experiences and attitudes.  

I will focus on professional environments here, but this easily translates out of work.

Confidence: Do I see myself in my job as competent? Do I believe I can learn what I don’t know? Can I apply past learning?

Comparison: Will I measure my success without focusing on others’ success? Do I have more than one success measure? Can I use learning from others?

Collaboration: Can I ask for help or information when I don’t know? Is sharing what I have easy and natural? Do I pool resources as a strategy?

If your responses were yes to these questions, you are probably standing firmly on the empathy end of the scale right now. And if you answered no, you are probably standing closer on the other end of the scale in apathy. And most likely, you answered some yes, and some no and, therefore, like many, you are somewhere in between. And you would probably have different answers in different situations and at other times in your career.

Getting Clear:

Apathy and empathy can be very either/or and seen as opposites.

In reality, it is a continuum we are often pacing back and forth on.

Apathy: a feeling and an attitude of indifference, detachment, unresponsiveness and general lethargy. It zaps our energy, makes decisions hard, and reacts to necessary situations  passive at best. 

Empathy: more than a feeling, it’s the ability to sense other people’s emotions, and the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling and consider other perspectives of a situation. Socially we strive for empathy to be fulfilled and happy. At the same time, we can default to apathy as a form of armour or slip into it from feeling overwhelmed. While tuning out might help protect your mental and emotional health, it does nothing to build a connection.

Apathy has us scared and hopeless. It pushes us to isolate ourselves. If we want to move towards our goals, we need to practice empathy in our lives so we can relate and connect with others in a meaningful and supportive way.

A lack of empathy in your workplace can show up as drama between people getting in the way of the work. Lack of inspiration exhausted energy in the office or on zoom. Lots of overtime, redoing work rather than sharing feedback and/or unmanageable workloads.

And probably the most dangerous, resentment towards each other. These are all signs that your team is not aligned with each other or the business.

When these are not addressed, you waste time, energy and finance trying to move forward.  

One action to take is to focus on building trust and connection

This can lead to more individual confidence, less comparison with others, and more collaboration.

Getting Connected

Some research differentiates between two types of empathy.  

Affective empathy refers to the sensations and feelings we get in
response to others’ emotions. It can include mirroring what that
person is feeling or feeling stressed when we detect another’s fear or anxiety. 

Cognitive empathy is sometimes called perspective taking. This
refers to our ability to identify and relate to other people’s emotions, even if we have not had the exact same experience. Cognitive
empathy can be practiced and can help build professional connections. It is a helpful tool to use rather than rocking up with apathy as a
strategy to preserve energy; intentionally engaging in empathy will generate more energy.

Here is something you can try to start practicing empathy at work:

Mindful Transitions:

Take 1-3 minutes between meetings or tasks to check in with yourself and each other (longer if it was a big meeting or a long stretch of focused work).  

  1. Ask yourself: How am I feeling right now? What do I need before this next meeting or starting a new task?
  2. Ask each other: How much energy do you have coming into this conversation or meeting?

You can, % as in, I have 100%, 50%, 10%, or try a scale of 1-5. Whatever works for you.

  1. Decide together: Is there anything needed before starting?

This short practice allows you to understand what people think and feel instead of assuming. With this understanding, you build a sense of trust and commonality that, when used consistently, can increase resilience, productivity, and happiness at work. Curiosity is contagious; pass it on.

To learn more about what Georgia Reynolds can offer your team or business, go to: www.georgiareynolds.ca.