Empathy Development: Is it worth the hype?

At Translator, where our mission is to deliver empathy and equality to all institutions, we think about empathy a lot. We think about it in terms of individuals’ relationships with each other and in terms of creating empathetic cultures in the workplace.

In this post, we’d like to discuss the basics about how we define empathy and why we see it as crucial to all organizations’ success.

First, let’s examine what empathy means on a high level.

What is empathy?

Simply put, empathy is the ability to share someone else's feelings, to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and understand their perspective. It is perhaps the most important trait humans demonstrate. Beyond sympathy or compassion, where we are able to support another person with compassion or sensitivity, empathy allows us to imagine and inhabit that person’s experience so as to better understand and communicate.

Why does it matter?

Empathy is the driving force behind successful business communications and operations.

According to recent Booz Allen research, when hiring managers of Fortune 500 companies were asked to rank the value of a candidate’s skills, “Demonstrate respect for others,” ”Builds trust,” “Works effectively in diverse teams,” and “Open to new ideas and ways of thinking” all came ahead of “Qualifications in the field.”

Empathy development fosters these soft skills.

What’s more, developing individual empathy leads to higher employee engagement. When you have employees that foster trust and respect in their colleagues, you create tighter, more bonded groups. Research tells us that employees are more likely to take and keep a job at an organization that they perceive to be empathetic. Even if that means a lower paycheck.

Yes, it is a new day in corporate America. The smartest, most agile companies are recognizing the risk protection and the upside benefits of creating empathetic and diverse environments. And when we use the word “diversity,” we mean diversity of thought as much as race, gender, or sexual orientation. Companies benefit from eliminating bias not only because it supports a stronger internal culture, but also because it allows them to win new markets and more agilely navigate cross-cultural business opportunities.

How do we deliver empathy?

Empathy is a skill that grows when practiced. Like a mental muscle, it must be strengthened and repeatedly worked to maintain. Translator takes a three step approach to empathy development and maintenance.

First, we start with self-awareness. We ask people to reflect on their own identities using facilitated strategies like meditation and self-awareness exercises. We deliver this step through our in-person trainings and through an interactive mobile application.

Second, we provide context for employees. Cognitive frameworks and supporting facts around concepts like sexual orientation, gender diversity, and race are presented.

And, third, we provide interaction and exposure in the form of immersive storytelling. Directly stepping into the perspective of an individual whose identity differs from our own helps illuminate biases. Depending on the engagement, we use a range of delivery tools from in-person trainings to interactive gaming experiences to immersive VR and 360 video.

Our goal is not merely to foster more empathy in the world, but instead to create measurable and positive behavior change for our audiences. We deliver experiences and measure the efficacy through our virtual reality learning management system (VRLMS)  to track how users internalize and implement the lessons. The form factor of VR, with its total immersion, delivers a visceral experience that more readily shifts perspective and changes behavior.  

So, is empathy development worthy of the hype?

Yes, empathy matters, and we’re building it one company at a time.