The Importance of Empathy for Business Graduates, and How to Improve Your Empathy

Oct 22 2019 | Tags: Emotional Intelligence

The Importance of Empathy for Business Graduates, and How to Improve Your Empathy

In recent years there has been a shift in what the business world values in terms of new employees. While IQ certainly has its place, EQ has become one of the most important determining factors in employment and success. According to the career builder survey in 2011, 71 percent of hiring managers value EQ over IQ. On top of that the World Economic Forum’s Future Jobs Report puts Emotional intelligence in the top 10 job skills needed in 2020. Clearly, emotional intelligence is an important skill to have, and can distinguish you from other applicants. However, there is one competency of emotional intelligence that would be particularly beneficial for business students looking for future employment to improve. That competency being empathy.

According to the 2019 State of Work Empathy study, 87 percent of CEO’s and 8 in 10 HR professionals agree financial performance of a company is tied to empathy, however, 51 percent of employees struggle to demonstrate empathy. This paired with the Harvard Business Reviews reporting a strong link between empathic leaders and financial performance makes a strong case for the benefits of empathy in a business context. Unfortunately, these skills that could help you compete in the job market may not be what’s valued at your school. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Becky Frankiewicz of the Harvard Business Review speak to this disconnect when they say “While Employers want candidates with higher levels of EQ, resilience, empathy and integrity, those are rarely attributes that universities nurture or select for in admissions.” With empathy being such a sought-after skill that is not being prioritized in many universities the question remains. How do you promote and improve empathy?

Here are some strategies laid out by Dr. Martyn Newman in his book Emotional Capitalist on how to improve empathy.


Strategy 1: Focus on the Cognitive Dimension

Be more than “The Nice Guy”

Being empathetic is more than simply being nice. Having empathy means being able to shift your prospective to see the world from that person’s point of view. As Dr. Newman would put it “Where you stand determines what you see.”

Being an Active Listener

Being an active listener is a good way to demonstrate you are engaged and are trying to understand another perspective. In order to be an active listener, you must:

  • Be attentive. Don’t let other factors distract you from the conversation.
  • Give them your physical attention as well. This means giving eye contact, and having your body facing them. Think of the phrase “they were on the edge of their seat.”
  • Ask them open ended questions. Open ended questions such as “how are things coming along since the last time we spoke?” are a lot more effective than simple yes or no questions.
  • Pause and paraphrase. Stop every so often and restate what the person has said in a way that demonstrates understanding and acceptance.

Strategy 2: Focus on the Emotional Dimension

Practice Empathic listening

One of the fundamental needs of human beings is to be understood, and one of the best ways to fill that need is through empathic listening. The goal of this strategy is to make the person you are talking to feel like the “most important person in the world” by connecting with them on an emotional level. In order to be a good empathetic listener, you must:

  • Reflect the context and content. This means being able to apply active listening skills, reflection, and be engaged in the context of the situation.
  • Identify thoughts and feelings. This step involves reflecting the feelings talked about by the individual you are talking to.
  • Reflect the unspoken emotions. Reflecting on the unspoken emotions of someone can be incredibly effective. Unfortunately, doing this can also be inappropriate at times. If you don’t know the person well enough you might misunderstand the unspoken emotion. Make sure you know that person well.

Taking the effort to properly understand someone from their perspective may be more difficult than it would first appear, however, it is an important and desirable trait in job applicants. I would urge students going into the business world to practice these strategies. One thing to remember is that while empathy is an important competency to improve, it cannot be the only one you improve. It is important to work on all the emotional intelligence competencies in order to be an effective and well-rounded employee.


Parker Christianson

Research Assistant

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