Why do we call ’empathy’ a soft skill?

When it brings so many tangible benefits to both our business and our social lives, why do we call empathy a soft skill? Should we instead agree with Belinda Parmar when she wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “There’s nothing soft about it. It is a hard skill that should be required from the board-room to the shop floor.”

Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of others, to see things from someone else’s point of view. It goes hand in hand with self-awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ) and it can have numerous benefits because these qualities help us to recognise emotions, both in ourselves and others, and then respond appropriately to them.

In business, empathy can deliver visible commercial benefits

Being empathetic to the needs of a customer can increase sales. Because if you can genuinely understand the issue or problem your customer is facing and then offer them a product or service that resolves that problem, you’re far more likely to be successful. 

Maybe even more importantly, an empathetic approach can lead to better customer service if something goes wrong. By understanding the frustrations your customer may be experiencing and dealing with the problem quickly and effectively, you could benefit from increased customer loyalty, repeat business, positive feedback and referrals.

 Within an organisation – and in all walks of life – empathy encourages greater collaboration and a better appreciation of other people’s views. You’re more likely to be receptive to compromise and to respond in the right way if you can genuinely put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

Maria Ross, brand strategist, author and speaker, says that companies are more frequently forming teams around traditional ‘softer skills’ – for example, equality, generosity, curiosity towards others’ ideas, empathy and emotional intelligence. And Google has found that their most important ideas often come from these so-called ‘B-teams’, rather than the ones that comprise their top computer scientists and software engineers. 

Ross says, “When team members feel confident speaking up and know they are being heard, great ideas are born.”

An empathetic environment can attract, retain and encourage highly engaged employees

Companies with empathy embedded into their culture are likely to have better employee engagement. In an environment where compassion and respect are high on the agenda, where ideas and creativity are welcomed and where team members are listened to without judgement, they’re far more likely to feel loyal, engaged and productive.

And people with a high EQ are a positive addition to any business environment because they’re better able to understand other people’s emotions and control their own. They’re often more mindful, more thoughtful and less prone to emotional outbursts. Usually, they’re less likely to jump to conclusions and be judgemental and they can be more likely to spot opportunities and take innovative ideas to senior leaders. 

As a coach, I have ‘cognitive empathy’

While ‘affective empathy’ means feeling someone else’s pain strongly within themselves, ‘cognitive empathy’ is the ability to understand the emotions of others in a rational way.

It’s measured by the statement, “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision,” and it involves understanding that other people have beliefs, desires, intentions and perspectives that are different from your own. It’s an essential quality for a coach.

Empathy can be developed

Listening to people without interrupting, giving them your full attention, asking questions, encouraging them to speak up and giving them praise for what they’re doing well – these are all ways of showing compassion and respect to others and developing your empathetic side.

If you think that developing empathy within your organisation could be good for your business, then let’s talk about how we can work together.



4 Reasons Why Empathy Is Good for Business, Maria Ross https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/322302

Why Empathy is the Most Important Business Skill https://www.laserfiche.com/ecmblog/why-empathy-is-the-most-important-business-skill/

How can you tell if you have high emotional intelligence? And why is it key to leading through a crisis? https://amp.businessbecause.com/news/insights/7040/how-emotionally-intelligent-are-you

Understanding others’ feelings: what is empathy and why do we need it? https://theconversation.com/understanding-others-feelings-what-is-empathy-and-why-do-we-need-it-68494