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Why curiosity is the new empathy at work

While empathy helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of another, empathic curiosity takes it a step further, says AccessEAP.

Instead of just wondering what a person does for a living, empathic curiosity “makes you wonder why they do it, and it’s this conscious, careful wonder that allows us to learn what it’s really like to live in their shoes”, said the Australian employee assistance program provider.

Showing interest in an employee’s life and background not only helps us understand them better but creates a more harmonious workplace, AccessEAP said.

“Many people believe empathy is something we reserve for our home and family life, but the reality is it’s vital in business too. Empathic leaders often display increased emotional intelligence and are better at creating a more inclusive workplace,” explained AccessEAP clinical director Marcela Slepica.

“It is said that ‘nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care’, and this is certainly true in a workplace setting. Employees who feel cared for and are valued are more productive, innovative and loyal. Without growth and innovation, businesses stagnate and fade away. By understanding others, we develop closer relationships and start to build trust, which is essential for success in every business,” she noted.

Questions help to improve our connection and relationships, and strong relationships in the workplace can lead to improved teamwork and collaboration, increased morale and greater productivity, the provider continued.

“Empathy requires listening, openness and understanding; thankfully, it is a trait that can be developed. Training should be provided to employees and leaders on an ongoing basis to help build on inclusive strategies and strengthen our ability to communicate.”

Ms Slepica offered some simple ways to develop and increase empathy:


Empathic leaders spend more time listening than talking as they want to understand the difficulties others face, she said.

“Listening will help them understand their team better as well as any challenges they may face. Organisations should create opportunities for dialogue between leaders and employees where everyone can speak their mind in an open environment. Face-to-face conversations and team meetings tend to be the most effective.”

Ask questions

“Asking questions shows others that you are giving them your attention, you care about what they say and makes them feel like they are being heard,” Ms Slepica continued.

“This in turn will make them feel more valued. In conflict situations, asking curious questions leads to better outcomes as people are given an opportunity to have their side heard, which in turn helps understanding and may avoid assumptions.”

Embrace diversity

“Embracing different backgrounds, genders, cultural heritage, ages and working styles can help create more empathy in the workplace. Being respectfully curious about the backgrounds and particular needs of your team will help them feel more valued and bring the best out of them.”

Understanding different cultures and their styles allows for more effective management, she noted.

Be flexible

“Respecting the need for flexibility is crucial, and taking time to understand the need for time off for personal or family issues, or the need for flexible working hours, is a simple way to use your curiosity to help you be a more collaborative leader. Often, people leave managers, not jobs,” Ms Slepica said.

Practice empathic curiosity daily

“Empathic curiosity is a learned skill that can grow with practice, so put it into daily use. Make a conscious effort to be more inquisitive in day-to-day activities and interactions through words and actions. This is essential in today’s workplaces where five generations are working side by side,” she concluded.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain