Empathy at the Workplace
The concept of empathy is often misunderstood as an emotional response to the world around us. And so, we tend to avoid it in areas of our life where strong, logical thinking is needed – like the work place. But the ability to empathise – i.e. identify, understand, and appreciate other people’s emotions – is in fact a highly cognitive process which can transform how teams work together.
Contrary to popular belief, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and see the world from their perspective is not some magic ingredient only some people are born with. It’s a natural step in the evolution of social interactions and bonding. We tend towards it automatically to understand the world around us – what motivates and drives people? why they behave the way they do? what do they need and how can I provide it? Seen in this context, empathy is a strong tool for anyone selling a product or service or idea to a group of people. It’s all about understanding your audience.
In any organisation, empathy can play a salient yet powerful role in aligning business goals and enhancing team performance. Here’s a breakdown of exactly how and where empathy comes into play in the internal workings of your business.
Be it external marketing and publicity or internal communications, knowing your audience is the key to relaying your message. Marketeers often use empathy as a tool to understand consumer behaviour and hence, the needs and motivations of their target audience. Within teams as well, empathy is needed for effective and open communication. It helps build trust and cooperation, so teams can work with better synergies.
Mistrust and miscommunication often breed in teams due to a lack of empathy. If we don’t understand each other’s challenges, we tend to get stuck in our own limited world view. We argue from a rigid space where other perspectives are shunned and ignored. More often than not, it is fear that drives us to insist on our opinions – a fear of not being seen or heard. But if you think about it, the same fear is also driving other people around you in that same moment. And when we recognise this, through empathy, interactions become easier and common grounds show up.
Which bring us to a natural state of self-awareness. One might argue which comes first – an awareness of the self or recognition of the other. But the two are in fact symbiotic abilities that build on each other. Understanding other people’s emotions can help us better understand how these affect us. We can effectively recognise our own triggers – especially those arising from our environment and the people in it.
Rewards and Recognition
R&R is one of those basic functions that is built on solid grounding – the insight that recognising effort is a strong motivator – but often flounders in execution. Companies often hand out certificates of appreciation in dozens, leaving nobody feeling truly appreciated. This standardisation of recognition is in itself a de-motivator. Enter empathy and the distinctions between people begin to surface, making it easier to recognise and appreciate them for what makes them uniquely themselves. This may be as simple as a verbal praise or acknowledgement.
From Empathy to EI
As empathy helps us recognise other’s emotional traits, we will still need to learn how to navigate through them. Emotional Intelligence is the ability that helps us do this, by learning how to deal with our own as well as other’s emotions. It guides our thinking and behaviour while dealing with our team members, employees and leaders. When we pause to reflect on someone’s criticism or negative feedback and decide to build on it rather than lashing back, we show emotional intelligence. Not surprisingly, the way to do this is by first appreciating where the other person is coming from. So, while empathy helps us put ourselves into someone else’s shoes, EI is the tool that teaches us how to walk in them!
What’s the bottom line?
If you are still unsure of how empathy will truly affect your business, consider this. The 2016 Empathy Index, published in the Harvard Business Review, lists Facebook, Google and LinkedIn as the top three most empathetic companies. The list goes on to mention what are undoubtedly the most successful companies in the world today. Clearly there is a strong business case for building a more empathetic work environment.
It’s also interesting to note that the index looks at empathy across metrics such as ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception and public messaging on social media. In other words, building empathy goes right into the DNA of any company, encompassing everything from your internal environment to external perceptions.
We are all emotional beings. This simple fact cannot be denied, even in the rational and deductive world of our jobs. Instead of ignoring these emotions and sweeping them under the rug, we must learn how to deal with them proactively and sensibly.
– by Anshu Daga, Founder, The Inner Startup