Empathy has become an important part of creativity and leadership in the workplace. And as a largely learned skill, it’s time to start walking the empathy-talk. So, how do we do more empathy in the workplace.Paul Bushell / Business Psychologist
If empathy is the quest to understand what another person is feeling, we need to start by doing two things.
First, we need to find out what we are feeling. Then, take that feeling and put it in a jar while we do empathy. In the workplace, as leaders and creators we are all swayed by our own prejudices, opinions and personal objectives. No matter how great our ideas or beliefs are, having tunnel vision always breaks down creativity and progress in the workplace. Pause and think about how often relentlessly driving your own agenda has resulted in conflict and poor delivery. And yes, sometimes we are right. But sometimes we are wrong. And even if we are right, sometimes being open to being wrong can inspire deeper co-worker input and output. Take the time at work to pause and think (maybe even write down) your thoughts and feelings before going into a group session. This means self reflection, but also being brave enough to put our feelings aside long enough to understand and learn from what the people around us are feeling.
Following this, we can start to explore what other people are feeling and thinking. The most effective means of getting this information is quite simple: listen and ask questions. A major barrier to empathy is distraction, rushing and deadlines. This is aggravated by technological business and communication, which eliminates the subtle nuances of face-to-face listening, and increases our risk of being bullish or insensitive. In any communication, use people’s names, smile, ask questions, encourage participation and sharing, don’t interrupt and take a personal interest. This is also true in the relationship between business and its consumers. Online shopping and decision making has created a divide between sellers and buyers, with little regard for the fact that peoples emotional needs and processes are largely unchanged. To get more empathetic with our consumers, we need to find ways to use technology to listen better, ask more personal questions, and create meaningful communication again (and boring surveys or telephone calls don’t count!)
Given the great value of emotional intelligence in the workplace it is no wonder that employers are taking the time to recruit employees who perform better on emotional intelligence psychometrics, investing money in mentorship programmes which nurture empathy, and creating cultures which celebrate diversity and encourage appreciation.