One topic that is frequently being discussed in regards to the economy and job market is whether a college degree is really worth it. After all, when it comes to amount of outstanding student loans, the United States is at its highest ever–$1.5 trillion across nearly 45 million borrowers–and the situation is being called a ‘crisis’ by many. After all, the default rate on those loans is at a staggering 11.4%, which is nearly eight times higher than the average default rate of all loans through commercial banks.

But that’s not what we’re really here to talk about today. After all, my stance with higher education is simple: make a decision that is right for you, and know that college isn’t the only option when you graduate high school–even if your parents keep pushing you down that path. And remember: let’s stop brainwashing our kids that it’s a college degree or nothing.

What we’re really here to talk about today is a trait that is more important for workplace success than almost anything you’ll learn in school and/or college. Now, obviously an accountant is going to need to go to school to learn about taxes and other financial ins and outs, but on the whole, most of what you “learn” in college is going to be forgotten when you get into the workforce, or your new employer is going to teach you their way.

The trait we’re focusing on today is empathy.

Now, first, what is empathy, and why is it important in the workplace?

The dictionary definition of empathy is, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.” Further, it’s the ability to comprehend, analyze, and relate to how others think, what their experiences are/were, and understand the emotions that they went through to arrive at the decision or action they did.

In other words, it’s the ability to step into someone else’s shoes

But why is this important for workplace success? There’s two main reasons: trust and decision making. 

Nurses, doctors, and teachers are three of the top four most trusted job holders in the United States, while also being recognized as some of the best job options for people that rank high in empathy. Or take a therapist, for example; you continue to go see your therapist on a regular basis because you trust him or her.

Trust in the workplace is essential for teamwork and effectiveness. When you get hired into your new job, if your coworkers do not trust you from day one, chances are you’re going to have a very hard time working with them–thus you’ll have a hard time finding success at that job. And looking at it from the other side of the coin, if you don’t trust your manager or boss, that’s a recipe for disaster down the road. Trust is something that all great leaders are known for, and in the workplace, it increases teamwork, productivity, morale, and loyalty. It’s essential for a business to run smoothly.

Reason number two is decision making. Whether you’re a brand new employee at a company or you just got promoted to a manager, you’re going to be faced with situations in which an important decision needs to be made. Now let’s go back to what empathy is in a nutshell: the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. So how does this help with the decision making process?

Well, it’s simple: most decisions don’t end with black or white, right or wrong answers. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes–a.k.a. have empathy–translates to decision making in allowing you to fully analyze a situation and the decision at hand. It allows you to view the problem and every potential solution that is being proposed to solve it. It allows you to see how Decision A will affect John negatively, while Decision B will affect Susie negatively.

In the end, empathy allows you to grasp every possible scenario that comes along with the decision you’re about to make, and choose the best one accordingly. It allows you to make an educated decision to solve problems and also have a reason why you made that decision. That will translate to long-term success.

Over 90% of CEOs in the United States believe that empathy has a major effect on a company’s financial well-being, and 93% of our workforce are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer–which is significant considering one in two U.S. workers is actively searching for a new job.

So take some time to be more empathetic, both from a professional standpoint as well as in your personal life. In the future, it’s going to get you further than almost everything you read in a textbook. After all, as Theodore Roosevelt once said, “people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”

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