5 Tips for Thriving in the Workplace as a Highly Empathetic Person
As a HEP, you truly have a superpower.
Researched, written by Louisa Liska
Updated on January 12, 2023
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Do you lead with empathy in your life? Being able to understand and empathize with the experiences of others is an extremely valuable skill. Like any strength, it can also become a weakness if you don’t fully understand how to use it. This can be especially challenging in the workplace.
Traditionally, being overtly emotional in the workplace has been frowned upon. That’s starting to shift, and many workplaces are seeing the value of embracing empathy.
However, even in more mindful workplaces, for your wellbeing and productivity, it’s important to be able to manage and moderate your empathy. If you don’t, you will be emotionally engaged in everything – no matter how important – which is extremely draining.
So, here are some top tips to help you to use your empathy for good while taking responsibility for your emotional wellbeing.
How To Thrive At Work as a Highly Empathetic Person
1. Use your empathy as a strength, but set boundaries
Don’t discount your empathy in the workplace. Your ability to get along with other people is a huge contributor to your success at work. You can use your empathy to connect with people and understand what drives and motivates them. This can apply beyond co-workers- to your customers, donors, vendors – anyone that you might interact with at the office. The more you understand others, the more successful you can be.
The danger here is when you move past understanding others to overly feeling the emotions of others. This can, at best, distract you from your priorities and, at worst, immobilize you from taking needed action. One thing that helps me is remembering that feeling someone else’s feelings does nothing to actually help them. Instead, I try to give validation and understanding to others and then let them be responsible for their feelings.
2. Track your mood and look for trends
Sometimes when you’re an empathetic person you pick up on others’ emotions without realizing it. By the end of the day, you are completely exhausted and can’t always figure out why. Or you might get especially worked up about an issue that isn’t actually important to you.
If you find this happening to you often, the best way to address it is to keep a mood log for a fixed period of time and start to look for trends. This can be very simple, for example, you can use a post-it note on your desk where you track your mood on a scale of 1-5 at fixed points during the day (for example, in the morning, mid-day, and evening). After you rate your mood, you can also make a note of the thoughts in your head. At the end of the week, you’ll review this mood log and see where you have fluctuations in your mood and what the related thoughts were.
By doing this exercise you might start to pick up on some trends. For example, you may realize that you get upset every Tuesday after a regular meeting you attend. Or every time you interact with a particular person your emotions spike. You may realize that you are taking on someone else’s emotions regularly. Once you start to see these things you can choose your response. Often recognizing these trends is enough to help start to shift them.
3. Create a decompression ritual
If you have gone through your day emotionally engaged in your work, it’s important to have a healthy way to decompress at the end of the day.
You will need to experiment to find what works best for you. You could try mediation; going for a walk; exercising; writing down everything that happened that day; deleting your work email from your phone; making a list of things to do for the next day before you leave your office; and many more. Try some of these ideas and keep track of what works best for you.
You can also start incorporating some of these rituals into your day whenever you find yourself emotionally heightened and needing to re-center yourself.
4. Learn techniques to rationally evaluate situations
When you’re a highly empathetic person, your emotions and the emotions of others are some of the loudest data points that you instinctively pay attention to. While this can be valuable, it can also make you miss other important data inputs and make bad decisions. If you’re making a big decision, it’s important to have a process to rationally evaluate the options and look for any blind spots you might have.
Also, when you’re primed to pay attention to the emotions of others, you may be misinterpreting them. For example, if you’re meeting with someone and they seem unhappy, you might interpret that to mean that they are unhappy with you. This can cause you to spin into unhealthy thinking, including speculating on why they’re unhappy with you and beating yourself up.
However, it’s completely possible that they’re either (a) actually perfectly happy or (b) unhappy with something completely unrelated to you. Before you jump into an emotional reaction, ask yourself: “is it possible that there is another way to interpret what I’m perceiving?” If you have a close relationship with the other person, you can check in with them to make sure everything’s okay. If you don’t have that relationship, unless there is additional data to indicate otherwise, you likely can assume that there may be something else going on and just keep track of their response going forward.
5. Learn healthy ways to resolve conflict
A major trigger point for highly empathetic people is a conflict with others. Knowing someone else is having a strong negative emotional reaction because of it can be immobilizing. This leads people to conflict-avoidant behaviors, which often hurts your success and ultimately postpones the problem further down the line. If you find yourself in conflict with someone else, here are a couple of steps you can take:
- Ask to meet with them in person;
- Explain the situation as well as your perspective and feelings;
- Listen without being defensive;
- Ask the other person for ideas on how to solve the issue and share your ideas as well;
- Look for solutions that provide a win for both parties;
- Recap your conversation, clearly stating the agreed-upon decision and next steps.
In conflict situations, it’s important to try not to “mind-read” and assume you know what the other person is thinking. Follow these steps above before you start to assume the worst and blow the situation out of proportion in your head.
As a highly empathetic person, you truly have a superpower. Empathy is an incredible source of strength and a tool for building a better world. Managing and moderating your empathy is important for you to build a healthy life. As you learn and master these skills, you will become more and more comfortable with showing up as your empathetic self in the workplace, ultimately leading to an energized and empowered life.
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