May 15, 2021 The power of empathy and workplace conversations
So why is empathy so important in the workplace? You might think this is a naïve question and be surprised how many people just don’t understand empathy and how powerful it can be in a relationship. Empathy doesn’t happen naturally for everyone. It is a conscious choice.
The most common way to describe empathy is ‘to put yourself in someone else’s shoes’. You’ve probably done this many times and come away with a better understanding of how the other person feels or perhaps why they reacted in a particular way. It means understanding it from their perspective NOT yours. As much as this sounds like a no brainer, it’s not easy to do. Mainly because we all have our own past experiences, emotional reactions, and personal biases. After all, we’re human, right?
So, how do we best approach this? Renowned psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman refer to three components of empathy – Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.
Cognitive empathy refers to simply knowing how the other person feels or what they might be thinking. For example, your colleague may have had a terrible disagreement with his spouse. You might know that he is upset because it involves someone he cares for. However, knowing this ‘cognitively’ is a few steps away from really feeling what he’s feeling. That takes us to the next level, which is Emotional empathy. Here, you look inward and almost cringe when you remember how you felt during an argument with someone you care for. The memory now puts you in a similar emotional zone.
So, where to next? By taking what you’ve learned from the cognitive and emotional levels, you can work towards compassion. This is where you balance what you understand and feel – so that you can move towards helping others without jumping straight into problem solving. It requires listening without interrupting. It necessitates allowing the other person to feel safe and not be judged. Finally, it requires them asking for assistance or guidance; without diving in to save the day!
As mentioned earlier, empathy is not a strong suite for everyone. However, by tying the three components of empathy together and practicing it often, we can get more proficient at it. As you’ve gathered, it’s also very meaningful for relationships outside of work.
After every time you practice it, do two things:
- ask others for feedback on how you did
- ask yourself how you feel about the conversation; and what you would continue or change
This self-check allows you to get better at it and is a practical way to develop your own skills.
In closing, let’s take it back to your work. There’s no doubt empathy can assist in facilitating positive conversations. Imagine how a little more understanding and compassion can significantly improve communications, and teamwork. Given the unpredictable world we live in, wouldn’t it be amazing to have workplace relationships where everyone is genuinely willing to help one another when needed?
Remember, when you give it forward to others, the workplace connections can become more engaging, powerful, and productive. And that ultimately drives us all to be more motivated!
We’re Vas and Sobha Nair, two sisters that have lived and breathed all aspects of human resources for over 50 years between us. Giraffe was born from our global experience coaching leaders and business owners navigate the same tricky workplace issues and discussions that you face. We know the best practices and proven processes that help turn workplace conflict on its head – and we want to share all of this and more with you in Giraffe.