How to Work with Someone Who Lacks Empathy

I get asked this all the time: “How do I work with someone who lacks empathy?”

Before we dive into the answer, let’s remember what empathy is: Empathy is the ability to connect with someone’s feelings and just be there for them. 

The first thing you need to do is understand where this person is coming from. Let’s name him Joe. Joe probably has challenges with emotional intelligence (EQ), is not aware that he lacks empathy or doesn’t believe it will help his career or life.

Joe might know he’s not tuning in, and he may wear it as a badge. “Of course I walk past people in the hallway without stopping to chat! I’m here to get work done. Plus, I’ve been promoted over and over again, so having empathy doesn’t matter to my job.”

Sometimes, a person like Joe can go quite far in his career without displaying empathy. If he has a high IQ and great technical skills – he can manage large complex projects or close major business deals – he can keep getting promoted.

For years, he is rewarded despite his lack of empathy. Why would he change?

Here is what to do when you’re working with someone like Joe:

Understand that it’s not about you. Joe doesn’t know you have kids, because he doesn’t think it’s important to ask about family. This is not about you, it’s about Joe.

Meet him where he is. He doesn’t think empathy is a job requirement, and he’s not going to change unless there’s a major intervention.

Don’t judge. Remember that Joe is successful and has been rewarded for how he operates. It might not seem fair, but from Joe’s perspective his style and lack of empathy is working well for him.

Show empathy. Raise your awareness around empathy and how you show it. If Joe goes through something difficult, show him empathy. Modeling it for him may help raise his awareness around the importance of empathy.

If you are working with someone like Joe and see the negative effect it’s having on your team, contact us. A workshop or coaching could make a big difference and just might bring more awareness to Joe.