One of the most important soft skills to look for when hiring

There are many soft skills employers look at when hiring new employees, yet there is one that can help transform your business as well as the people within it – empathy! Take a look and see why empathy is so important and how you can benefit from hiring empathetic teams. When hiring new employees, many…

There are many soft skills employers look at when hiring new employees, yet there is one that can help transform your business as well as the people within it – empathy! Take a look and see why empathy is so important and how you can benefit from hiring empathetic teams.

When hiring new employees, many companies have extensive and rigorous recruitment processes. Often, these include several rounds, perhaps with capability and aptitude tests. There are also numerous types of soft skills which employers should be looking for and typically they cover the four C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. You have likely heard the phrase ‘Hire for attitude, train for skill’. Organisations are recognising the importance of this and hiring talent which may not necessarily be the most qualified yet will likely be more successful at the job. Of all the soft skills, there is one that rises above the rest and, in fact is the bedrock for the success of the others – empathy. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the importance of empathy and why it should be a priority amongst all the soft skills in the workplace.

Why is empathy so important?

Before discerning how to look for empathy in potential employees, it is essential to understand its true meaning, especially as it’s used interchangeably with sympathy and compassion. It can get quite confusing! Despite being related, they are not synonymous with each other. Sympathy is feeling sorry for another’s misfortune with some emotional distance as the feeling is not experienced personally. Compassion is the emotional answer to sympathy, creating an urge to help. Unlike it’s close cousins, empathy goes a little deeper. It is the ability to understand the feelings and emotions of other people even if the situation has never been encountered before. Put simply, it is really putting yourself in their shoes. An empathetic person will literally jump into cold waters with someone as opposed to just shouting advice from the boat.

So, why should it be a priority for businesses? The importance of empathy is beautifully summarised by Richard Branson, “Great things can be achieved by leading through wisdom, empathy, and integrity—with no other agenda than humanity.” We agree. Empathy leads to helping behaviour, a more ‘humane’ culture. When hiring for empathy, you are essentially securing people who can engender stronger personal connections within a tapestry of more meaningful and cooperative relationships. Those with empathy handle conflicts better, manage people’s expectations better and motivate others better. Those with empathy tend to have a stronger service orientation.

The Harvard Business Review’s ‘Empathy Index’ unearthed some of the most empathetic companies globally. Companies such as Facebook, Google’s Alphabet and LinkedIn were found to have successfully implemented empathetic cultures and reaped some amazing rewards, “These are the companies that retain the best people, create environments where diverse teams thrive, and ultimately reap the greatest financial rewards.” Hiring for empathy resulted in increased morale, higher performers as well as optimised earnings.

Can empathy be taught?

As one of the most valuable soft skills in the workplace, empathy has the power to transform your organisation as well as the experience of the teams within it. Research has shown that empathy is not innate but can actually be taught.

Developing empathy skills could include engaging greater listening skills and allowing others to have a say without any interruptions. By reflecting back what they are saying, you can assure them that they have been heard and understood. Ask yourself: what are they really feeling? What do they need? It is also essential to connect with internal teams face-to-face in order to understand their point of view rather than sending a dismissive email or text. These are just a few examples of many strategies that can cultivate empathy and will by default foster other types of soft skills such as collaboration or communication.

How to look out for empathy during the recruitment process

Hiring for empathy will help get your business ahead in the longer term, setting it apart from the competition. That said, knowing how to look for empathy is often seen as being tricky, yet there are many ways to gage an applicants empathy level at the interview.  

Listening skills: Look at a candidate’s ability to listen rather than waiting to speak. Ask them to reflect on an earlier conversation to ascertain how engaged they are. How do they interact with your dialogue as opposed to saying a prepared speech? Being an active listener and communicator are essential precursors for empathy skills.

Treating people: Ask them for examples of how they have supported a colleague, customer, family member through a particularly difficult time or situation. What’s more, ascertain how the applicant treats ALL people. Did they smile and greet your receptionist? Were they affable to the security guard? These all contribute to a person’s ability to empathise with others.

Real world examples: Put an emotionally sensitive situation to them and ask them what they would do, how would they respond? Ask them to use their imagination. These questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, but rather make the candidate think about their actions and what they would actually do. Those with low empathy are less likely to forge a response that is empathetically driven.

Honesty: Establish how much the candidate is opening up to you – honesty is key!

When looking at soft skills in the workplace, hiring for empathy is as important as any other skill to steer your business in the right direction. Being able to comprehend a point of view that is different from our own is at the heart of emotional intelligence, positive communication, innovative thought and creativity. Empathetic employees will simply be better at handling various situations, ultimately improving retention rates, increasing the bottom line and boosting morale.

If you would like to learn more about hiring for empathy, including recruitment and job specification support, please contact one of our dedicated consultants.