Money & Career

The Role Of Empathy In Saying ‘No’ At Work


Earlier this week, I published “Yes, It’s Alright To Say ‘No’ At Work,” which discussed the need women have in the workplace to say “yes” in an attempt to demonstrate proficiency in their role.  

Dr. Alauna Curry specializes in helping her patients develop empathy skills and awareness. She believes that while the ability to say “no” at Work is a sign of strength. More importantly, empathetic leaders must foster an environment where working moms can feel safe to say “no.” 

This the follow-up interview to that article with Board Certified Psychiatrist Dr. Curry. She answers the following questions about the role of empathy in saying ‘No’ at work.

What is empathy’s role in the workplace? 

We must acknowledge that people bring their emotional challenges, stressors, and mental preoccupations to work; they do not stay home when we sign into the office. People at every organizational level are experiencing painful psychological traumas and stressors in their life. 

Why should we deepen our definition of empathy in the workplace? 

Beyond understanding others’ feelings, empathy also provides us with the unique ability to experience ourselves through the lens of another. All of us interpret the world through a little bubble of perception.  Empathy allows us to consider how other people see, hear, and feel us, only by tuning in to the invisible thoughts and emotions in an interaction. This is crucial in the workplace because we rarely are accurate with fully gauging the experience of others. The time it takes to complete the “simple task,” the energy it costs to “manage a project,” or the psychological and emotional state of your colleague at that moment. Especially while enduring a global pandemic. 

How does saying “no” also relate to empathy? 

Saying “no” in the workplace can decrease stress-related incidents in the workplace, which often leads to preventable aggression or violence. An empathic and trauma-educated workplace recognizes that their employees are human beings who deserve to be able to say the occasional healthy “no,” so that they can be mentally and physically well enough to say “yes” to the inevitable day-to-day demands of any role.

A trauma-informed workplace also encourages employee health by listening to people when they express the invisible stressors. They may also experience and pay attention to their psychological needs. Moreover, empathetic leadership fosters an environment where employees can feel safe expressing themselves authentically. Thus, creating an emotionally healthy environment in which they can thrive. 

How can someone say “no” in the workplace and still express empathy for their colleagues? 

It is essential to be skillful in delivering a strategic “no,” such that you maintain a respectful and positive relationship while still setting a successful boundary. Communicate that you understand their reasons, and, in return, take a standby explaining your situation. Connect with emotional words, set limits, and express your needs. Often, we may find it difficult to put our emotions into words, which is all the more reason why it is important to do! The more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for others to respond to them more compassionately. 

 In short, empathy is a newly championed concept for improving overall mental health. It has become a powerful tool for organizations and individuals who recognize that developing the emotional intelligence of their employees is crucial and indispensable. 

The good news is that empathy is a skill that can be learned and practiced to great positive effect for any individual using it, whether in a personal or professional setting. 

Read more about the role of empathy in saying ‘No’ at work.  



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