Most individuals don’t discuss empathy the general ability to understand, appreciate and relate to what other people are experiencing or feeling in business with particularly high frequency, but it is a trait that all successful business people should strive to develop and possess. Often confused with sympathy the ability to detect and react to the distress of others with pity or sadness it has the potential to separate a losing company from a winning one.
Fostering Trust and Supporting Your Network
When you are empathetic in your business, be it with your coworkers, subordinates, bosses or customers, the people you’re dealing with get a sense that you’re on their side, which diffuses conflict. They also feel less alone and, subsequently, as though it is possible to get through whatever problem or crisis they are experiencing. Taken together, over time, these elements foster feelings of trust.
Trust is necessary for building all relationships. Without it, people generally have trouble sharing their minds and hearts, which creates inefficiency and fuels fights. The result is that you cannot build a network successfully. In business, a lack of a network is disastrous, because it is your network that gets you the right people and resources at the right price at the right time, moving ideas to reality.
Driving Awareness, Communication and Out-of-the-Box Thinking
The advantages of empathy in your workplace don’t end with trust. When you look at others with empathy, it is often easier to see where others excel or need some help. Your understanding of their situation and feelings changes which solutions look acceptable to you. With more trust in the environment, people don’t feel as though they’ll always be blamed for everything, so they’re more willing to go out on a limb, try new things and communicate the truth. In some cases, this totally can redirect your business strategy, encouraging you to be more innovative.
Stability Is Everything
One of the side effects of having an open, trusting work environment built on empathy is that employees (surprise!) actually want to work for you. They become your best word-of-mouth advertisers and put maximum effort into what they do so the entire team can succeed. They feel more satisfied with their job and, as a result, they’re not as likely to be late, call in sick or look for other positions. The combination of advocacy, increased drive and decreased turnover all contribute to a much more stable business, hiking productivity and profits.
A Challenging, But Navigable, Path to Developing Empathy
Leaders in business slowly are starting to recognize the difference empathy can make to their enterprises, but the realization inevitably begs the question: Why aren’t workers already putting a higher priority on this valuable trait? The answer is somewhat complex. First of all, the modern market has been sending a message of cutthroat competition for decades. Business leaders have bought into the concept that, in order to be the best, they have to look out for themselves. Being empathetic, by contrast, turns this concept on its head, requiring you to think first about others. It requires the realization that achievement of goals happens naturally when you make the people supporting your business your main priority.
Secondly, people are not cookie-cutter. They have a wide range of experiences, personalities, motivations and even medical issues that affect how comfortable they are with different social or work tasks. It’s sometimes difficult to get an accurate picture of how they feel or what they need if the information you are given is incomplete or misleading. Unraveling the reality of your workplace takes time, and with more and more employees expected to do more with less, delivering rapid turnaround, it’s a tussle to carve out space in the day for relationship building.
Overcoming the significant barriers to empathy development starts with simple observation. Going out into the workspace, talking one-on-one or getting feedback in other ways and watching more for body or vocal cues are all good ways to open your eyes to what’s really going on overall and in specific departments. Reviewing documentation such as HR complaints also can help.
Next, do your best to put yourself in someone else’s shoes mentally. Imagine how you would feel in their situation, ask yourself if what they need or are requesting is reasonable, and then ask yourself what you’d want someone to do for you under the same circumstances. Try to recall events from your own past that have been similar or have made you feel the way they currently do. During conversation, you can use these experiences to express a common ground and convince them you really do “get it.” As you go through this step, do your best to let go of past wounds. These hurts can color your judgment unfairly.
Educating yourself is another great step toward empathy. Much of what people notice, believe and feel comes from what they know, and as people learn, their perspective can change. The more you know about other practices, cultures, religions and other elements, the better chance you have of being able to relate to or understand a larger group of people.
Empathy is one of the most precious yet overlooked assets in any business. It has the potential to provide a significant boost in sales as well as a competitive advantage. The barriers to developing empathy in the workplace are not simple, but you can overcome them with conscious effort. Good observations, seeing through others’ eyes and learning are all great steps.
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