Empathy is compassion: it is the ability to understand someone else’s thoughts and feelings. In other words: compassion. In the Organizational context, it is listening to your coworkers and taking their problems and issues to heart for resolving them.
Being empathetic in the workplace provides meaningful, concrete returns. Connecting coworkers helps build camaraderie, sustaining the company and powering it up for the long term.
Why is Empathy so difficult to inculcate?
Organizations are complex and transitioning to a more understanding compassionate tone across the entire firm is difficult. Empathy needs people to be pro-active about getting closer to their colleagues. This does not happen overnight or instantly – it requires a conscious, sustained organizational effort, across all levels of hierarchy. Moreover, it involves getting invested personally in the lives and problems of colleagues – thus it can be draining, both emotionally and mentally. You may also end up seeing firsthand the shortcomings of your company, its leadership and individual employees, all of which can take a toll on you. Since empathy is difficult to measure, it’s impact on the organization’s bottom line is difficult to quantify.
There definitely are challenges – empathetic staff may be taken advantage of, by colleagues so oriented. There can be people who would load more and more of their problems on your plate. Establishing boundaries, setting norms is absolutely crucial to building a compassionate work environment. There will be challenges, but the need for more compassionate individuals in organizations is evident. There are some basic approaches to get started:
Listen to understand, Not Reply
When you listen to understand, barriers come down. Your colleagues begin to think their opinions actually matter. Understand that your time spent in the workplace is just as valuable as theirs is and better listening means solving their problems in a timely manner. Making yourself available is of prime importance – let people know that whether it’s over email, call or in person – you are available. Listening carefully can actually help to nip some organizational problems in the bud – defuse a problem before it causes harm.
Ask the right Questions
The proper approach is exercising empathy for colleagues is not just about being a good listener but also asking the right questions to get to the root of their problems. When people share problems, barrier come down and they realize that their voice is being heard. Asking thoughtful questions means, you are basically saying, “Okay, I hear you. What can I do to help? How are we going to take care of this?”
Ask them specific questions, so that their responses can, in turn, be better. Have some alternative scripts to stick to in case someone needs help to articulate and spell out a problem. This can help to set a framework to identify issues and address them.
Put yourself in their place
It’s rightly said, – don’t judge anyone till you walk a mile in their shoes. Translated into the organizational context, this means – be free of notions and just hear them out…approach your coworkers’ concerns with an open mind. Perhaps their work profile is stressful or they have had a rough day. You don’t know their circumstances and mindset, or what it’s taking for them to communicate. If you think that you have a lot on your plate, your colleagues probably feel the same.
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Just like there is a hierarchy in organizations, issues and problems may differ in scale, size & importance. Since empathy requires you to truly listen to your employees and their concerns, a “first come, first served” approach to problem-solving is definitely exactly compassionate or personal. Every problem will be different and needs prioritizing – the more important issues need to get addressed immediately, while some can be dealt with later. Attending to the most urgent matters first shows that you understand the gravity of your coworkers’ situations as you offer a hand.
The most important thing to realize is that your quest for a more empathetic workplace is a marathon, not a sprint. Learning how to develop empathy skills such as patience, keen listening, and asking thoughtful questions takes time. The more you interact and become comfortable with your team, the easier it becomes to show them compassion.
Don’t let one bad experience or toxic colleague destroy your otherwise positive outlook, either. Consistently showing up and responding to colleagues’ concerns will finally lead to empathy, influence and respect. Having fostered positive relationships with your coworkers, you can safely expect other people in the office to return the favor.
The end result? A connected, compassionate workplace.