Empathy: The 11 Do’s and Dont’s to Supporting Others

by | Last updated Jun 28, 2023 | Emotional Intelligence, Culture, Leadership




Alex’s Story

In recent weeks, Alex struggled with his workload while dealing with his mother’s illness. His performance dropped, so he shared this personal situation with his manager.


Unfortunately, the manager’s reaction wasn’t what he hoped for.


“Well, everyone has their issues to deal with, Alex. At least you’re not sick!? Remember, work-life balance is key.” These words left Alex more stressed than before. The manager continued with some unsolicited advice, “You should try meditation. It helps with stress.”


Following their meeting, Alex’s productivity continued to plummet. Deadlines slipped, and projects suffered.


This unfortunate scenario highlights the impact of a lack of empathy in the workplace – it can cause more stress and isolation, ultimately diminishing well-being and productivity. Sadly, Alex’s story isn’t unique.


Understanding Empathy and Support

In our fast-paced world, we can’t emphasize enough the importance of supporting one another. Whether it’s a friend in crisis, a family member battling health issues, or a colleague struggling with work pressures, our listening ear can make all the difference.

So, what exactly is empathy? Empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. It’s one of the pillars of emotional intelligence. It’s about stepping into someone else’s shoes and viewing the world from their perspective. On the other hand, support is the help or encouragement we provide to others, particularly in times of difficulty.

Empathy is a cornerstone of providing genuine support. It goes beyond simply acknowledging someone else’s feelings; it involves genuinely understanding those emotions and responding thoughtfully and caringly. It’s not about “fixing” their problems but about validating their feelings, making them feel heard, and letting them know they’re not alone.

Alex’s story shows the crucial role empathy plays at work. While the manager’s advice may have been well-intended, it’s dismissive. It felt like the manager was trying to quickly “fix” the problem rather than genuinely understanding it.


Empathy in Organizational Culture

Empathy plays a pivotal role in shaping a positive and inclusive organizational culture. It’s no wonder that 80% of CEOs identify empathy as a key to success. Empathy can express itself in many ways in an organization, like leaders understanding the challenges faced by their teams, colleagues being sensitive to each other’s workloads and stress levels, and the organization as a whole showing compassion during tough times.

Empathy can benefit an organization by:

  • Fostering trust and respect: It creates an environment that encourages open communication, leading to solid and respectful professional relationships.
  • Improving collaboration: It naturally amplifies our willingness to collaborate effectively and enhances overall productivity.
  • Guiding informed decision-making: Leaders who use empathy have a richer understanding of their employees’ views and needs, which guides them in making better decisions.
  • Improving customer relations: The effects of an empathetic work culture extend beyond internal dynamics. Employees who feel valued and understood are more likely to empathize with customers, positively influencing customer service and satisfaction.

In essence, empathy significantly shapes an organization’s culture, job satisfaction, team cohesion, and even the bottom line. Hence, nurturing empathy should top the priority list for any organization eyeing success.


The 5 Don’ts of Supporting Others

So how do we show support? Before diving into the do’s of supporting others, it’s just as important to know what not to do when supporting. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

Don’t minimize feelings: Phrases like “it could be worse” or “at least…” can inadvertently downplay our experience, making us feel unheard or misunderstood.

Don’t force positivity: Encouraging positivity can be helpful, but forcing someone to “look on the bright side” can invalidate their feelings or even be toxic. It’s okay to acknowledge that a situation is tough and that it’s normal to have negative feelings—more on toxic positivity in another of our blog posts.

Don’t provide unsolicited advice: People don’t want solutions. Unsolicited advice can often feel more like a critique. It’s important to remember that, unless asked, your role is to listen and validate, not to solve their problem for them.

Don’t make it about yourself: Avoid shifting the conversation towards your similar experiences. While sharing your experiences can sometimes help others feel less alone, it takes the focus off them.

Don’t overcommit yourself: Your well-being matters too! Be mindful of your boundaries and energy levels. Don’t hesitate to say no if you can’t provide support at that specific time and suggest a support alternative.


The 6 Do’s of Supporting Others

As we’ve covered what to avoid, let’s move on to the proactive steps you can take to provide empathetic and practical support:

Be present: Be fully in the moment, mentally and emotionally. Your complete focus should be on the other person. Put your phone away!

Listen actively: Listening isn’t just about hearing the words. Pay attention to non-verbal cues, show interest, and give feedback to show you understand. This reassures the other person that they’re truly being heard.

Validate feelings: Acknowledge their emotions and reassure them that it’s okay to feel the way they do. A simple “That sounds really tough, and, understandably, you’re feeling upset” is a great start.

Ask about their needs: Don’t assume what they need. Ask them how you can best support them in their situation.

Be patient: Everyone deals with challenges at their own pace. They may not be ready to move forward, and that’s okay. Be patient and let them know you’re there for them, no matter how long it takes.

Encourage professional help: If they’re going through a particularly tough time affecting their personal or professional life, suggesting professional help can be beneficial. Make sure they know you’re offering it out of concern for their well-being.


Let’s Revisit Alex: What Could’ve Been Different?

What if Alex’s manager had approached their situation empathetically? What would that story look like?

Over the past few weeks, Alex had been struggling with his workload due to his mother’s illness, and he knew his performance had suffered. He met with his manager and decided to share his situation.


Alex’s manager took a moment to acknowledge how difficult it must be to juggle caregiving and work. “That sounds incredibly tough, Alex,” they said. “It’s understandable that you’re feeling overwhelmed right now.”


This validation alone, the simple act of acknowledging Alex’s feelings, provided a huge relief. But it didn’t stop there. The manager continued, “How can we best support you during this time?” They brainstormed solutions, and Alex’s manager offered flexibility around work hours and deadlines.


Alex felt renewed motivation and commitment to his work in the following weeks, even with the personal challenges. Alex could both do great work and complete it ahead of schedule.


The Power of Empathy in Action

Alex’s story shows us the power of empathy. It can rebuild relationships, boost morale, and create a culture of understanding and compassion.

Imagine a world with empathy – where we all feel heard, understood, and supported. It’s within reach, but it begins with you. Let’s commit to fostering empathy as we navigate our relationships at home, work, and in communities. Remember the do’s and don’ts of providing support and strive to be that listening ear, that validating voice, that empathic presence when called upon.

Remember, your actions have the power to transform another’s experience. So, let’s take the time to be present, listen actively, validate feelings, and be patient. After all, a little empathy goes a long way.



About the author

Jason Boivin, Lead Content Strategist at innerlogic.

Jason holds a master’s degree in Human Kinetics with a concentration in Intervention and Consultation from the University of Ottawa in Canada, is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association, and is a Chartered Professional Coach with the Coaches Association of Canada.

Jason is driven by his passion for helping others succeed in a meaningful way. Through his extensive work with high-performance teams, Jason has developed a deep appreciation for culture and its impact on relationships and results.



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