If there’s something you remember about any good teacher you’ve ever had, it’s likely that they were really good at communicating with a group of individuals on a personal level. They didn’t just want you to know the material; they wanted you to understand it. And that, in turn, motivated you to want to learn.

As an employee, the best trainings I’ve received left me enthusiastic about jobs I didn’t initially want to do, and empathetic towards both employers and clients. The worst, however, failed to create this understanding, which in turn prevented the development of empathy.

Empathy is of crucial importance when thinking of how to motivate employees, and training for it is essential to the success of your business. 

How to motivate employees through empathy

How to Motivate Employees through the Power of Empathy

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

– Xun Kuang

Poor training for an employee can ruin a business. Since I started working as a teenager in high school I have been trained and trained others an absurd number of times. I’m in training again now and have been paying more attention to what works and doesn’t. There have been ups and downs in the last few days, but it’s become clear what the biggest problem is:

Even though the trainer is clearly very good at the job I need to learn to do, he is not very good at communicating how to do it.

If there’s something you remember about any good teacher you’ve ever had, it’s likely that they were really good at communicating with a group of individuals on a personal level. They didn’t just want you to know the material; they wanted you to understand it. This, in turn, motivated you to want to learn.

In the past, the best trainings I’ve received left me enthusiastic about jobs I didn’t initially want to do, and empathetic towards both employers and clients. The worst, however, failed to create this understanding, which prevented the development of empathy.

Empathy is of crucial importance when thinking of how to motivate employees. I will get back to this near the end of the article. 

There are three key messages I’m going to explain:

  1.     If you want employees to give 100%, tell them to give 200% because that’s what you do.
  2.     Help the employee be proud of their work, not afraid of it.
  3.     Sometimes it’s better to ask questions than provide answers.

Convey your passion

You cannot start with the assumption that the trainee will love the job as much as you do. It is however safe to assume that if you are training someone, you have invested a lot of time and effort to get to where you are, which could be anywhere from a startup to a small business to a large corporation.

If you want employees to be motivated to give their 100%, tell them that you’re giving it 200%, and that every minute has been worth it. One foot in the game is not enough; it takes two to be fully present. 

If it appears that the work is dull and unfulfilling for the trainer, that is the way it will be approached by the employee. Monotony only breeds monotony. 

Engage by making a display of how engaged and passionate you are, instead of attempting to force enthusiasm out of them.

Make sure they understand what’s at stake

Letting them know that no matter how small their position feels, they are being entrusted with responsibility. Responsibility implies both rewards for successes, as well as consequences for negligence.


It is important to understand that negligence is not always the same as a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes: negligence is an apathetic shrug in response to responsibilities. In the job I’m training for right now, I could literally cost someone their health and well-being if I do it wrong. The trainer I have at the moment has done a poor job of communicating the gravity of this responsibility to my group.

The key is helping the employee understand that they should be proud of their work and not afraid of it. Positive reinforcement is more powerful than negative reinforcement (acknowledge success more than failure) and will help build a confident workforce. This is a good place to transition into my next point.

motivate employees - entrust them with responsibility

Help them develop independence

Independence and confidence are intrinsically linked. Passion and responsibility are a part of it, but the most important aspect is an intimate understanding of that responsibility.

It is better to answer a question with more questions that invite the employee to find the answers themselves. The man training me right now constantly makes the mistake of saying ambiguously, “I told you this yesterday,” or being otherwise vague about what he wants from the group.  

Independence comes from encouraging employees to ask themselves questions and to come to the correct conclusions on their own.

For example, my relationship with math has been an inconstant rollercoaster throughout my life, where I sometimes excelled and other times struggled. The difference was always rooted in how the math was taught. Bad teachers listed formulas to memorize, while good teachers asked me questions so I could figure it out myself.

In elementary school I was handed several models of three-dimensional shapes. The teacher explained what volume was (with no mention of formulas), and said: spend the class figuring out how you would calculate the volume of all the shapes. Come see me when you think you’ve got it.

How does empathy fit into all of this?

There’s a litany of articles on the Internet about training employees to be empathetic, and that explain the positive impact it can have on a company’s bottom line. It’s also interesting to read about the ways it can be exploited in psychologically manipulative ways by large corporations. 

This article is meant to address empathy in a way that is intended as more than just the relationship between the company and the client, or the employee and the customer. I hope that my notes here have shed some light on the importance of developing:

  • The empathy that should be expected in the above relationships between company/clients and customers/employees.
  • Reciprocal empathy founded on mutual respect between the employer and the employed.
  • Empathy for colleagues and others that work alongside an individual. Respect should be held not only for superiors, but for co-workers and collaborators working at the same level as well.

Sure, empathy towards customers and clients is a good sales strategy, but stability and longevity come from harmony. A workplace founded on support and respect in every direction will keep people there.

A good business is one that understands the importance of people. Ford invented the weekend for its employees. Just give that a little thought.