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How important is Empathy at the Workplace

The author of this article Prashant Kumar Singh Chauhan, Director Operations at Centre for Sight has a broad experience in the healthcare sector ranging from Operations, Strategy, Change Management, Project Planning and Management with P&L experience in both Multi and Single Speciality Healthcare in India and abroad. 

When God was dispensing attributes, the longest queue was outside the Intelligence and Beauty Stalls, alas if Empathy had received the same attention like the rest, the world would have been such a different yet happier place to live, Isn’t it?

We are living in times, wherein attention span of humans has shrunk alarmingly, whilst towards our smart phones we have all the time in the world. The first thing we search when we reach a new place is not human network but a free Wi-Fi network. Whenever something goes wrong, we look at identifying the problem and the cause later, the first thing on our mind is the perpetrator and the deserving punishment.

In such times of glaring apathy, we search for Empathy like Gold Diggers in Alaska and going by what we have seen of late, the search has been mostly elusive. But why is that so, why as a human race we are slowly but surely turning into more like the technological devices we invented to serve us, cold and selfish? We surely need it more than we ever needed it before and rather than to wait for the next person to show it us, the onus lies on each one of us to ensure that we don’t lose the last bit of humanity and still deserve to be called humane.

When we traverse through various Healthcare systems around, the need for empathy gets magnified multifold compared to other Sectors, but let truth be told, that we are far away from the desired levels. There is a burning need to raise concern, educate, reinforce and then reap the benefits, both tangible and the most beautiful ones being the intangible rewards that get showered on us by the indebted receivers of empathy.

Why are we apathetic?? The answer lies in the inherent selfishness that lies amongst us in varying proportions which keeps us away from active listening and genuinely wanting to help others as the prime motive is always to fulfill interests of our own, the first time and every time.

The patients complain of inadequate chair time with the doctor, or tell the Manager that the Front Office Executive was busy on a phone call for most of the interaction or the Security Guard didn’t open the main door for the Wheelchair patient or the Patient Care Coordinator was too hurried in giving them directions to the OT. When one tries to pry into the minds of the involved parties, the common refrain is that no one in the Management has even ever talked about Empathy, and why it is needed in the workplace in the first place.

Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi are the first names that come into our minds when we think about empathetic individuals and lead us on the caring path with their inspiring stories to shine over our journey. 

Empathy has to be a Top Down approach as we have to lead by example and motivate the rest to join us in building culture that spreads beyond the four walls into the society around.

There are three different types of Empathy:

  • Cognitive Empathy: In this form, you understand what the other person is thinking (Perspective thinking) and is good for say in helping negotiation or motivating people
  • Emotional Empathy: In this form, you feel physically with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.
  • Compassionate Empathy: In this form, which one can call the highest form, we not only understand for feel for them, but also have a strong urge to help them, if needed.

When a Supervisor doesn’t even want to listen why an Employee wants to reduce her working hours for the next six weeks to take care of an ailing mother, we simply choose to overlook and move on, while this apathy can set up a vicious chain reaction leaving no one unaffected. 

In the times of Social Distancing, we must remember to teach each and every soul in our Organizations to stay away from apathy and embrace Empathy when we deal with everyone. Many vital topics are not part of any structured curriculum but its upon us and more so in these troubled times to reach out to all and tell them that if we truly want to make this world a better place, it has to start from within and how we treat others. And remember we don’t ever wish anyone to treat us with anything but empathy.

Whenever we are interviewing candidates, we search for intelligence, aptitude and fitment to the role, can we also add Empathy to the list of critical attributes on our list? We can build on empathy, but it’s very difficult to start on it from scratch. In my experience of talking about Empathy I have met many Doctors who came back to us after a session and said, they never looked at Empathy the way they look at it now and for sure their Feedback scores improve considerably when their make a conscious effort with their patients. We take a lot in our lives for granted and its only when we stop doing it, do we exhibit the behaviors which our patients expect from all of us, all of the times.

I still have goosebumps every time I watch that Empathy video of Cleveland Clinic, because it surely does so succinctly demonstrate to us somethings which stare at us always yet evades our kind attention.

If only we can remember the 5 mantras which encapsulate Empathy:

  • Eye contact, as no empathy can even begin with a dose of indifference
  • Practice Active Listening with your Patients and Staff all the time. Spend more energy and make sure for fruitful, real and comforting conversations.
  • Practice kindness in your lives, for once try being a Giver than remaining as a Taker all the time
  •  Treat others the same way you would wish to be treated if the tables were turned.
  • Whenever we are talking to someone who needs to be heard, always remember the three golden words “Calm Quiet Attentiveness”.

So, the next time your Cancer Survivor patient asks you, “What about my pain in the months to come?”, don’t brush it off like another of the time-wasting moments, but take a deep breath and think what if this happened to me, and explain with as much detail and understanding that you didn’t even think you were capable of. The joy that shall encapsulate your soul, shall remain for not days and weeks, but months and years. Go ahead, try it to believe it!!

Man photo created by pressfoto –


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