The pace of modern working life leaves us little time to stop, listen and connect with our colleagues and employees. But, if we focus on stretching our empathy muscles in this way, what do we stand to gain?
Neuroscientists agree that we are born with an empathic instinct. But as we grow older, we develop more ego-driven attitudes and behaviours and empathy, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, takes a back seat in the struggle for success, reward and status.
Empathy can only be triggered when there is genuine communication. If we share something of ourselves, we make it easier for others to share with us. In the workplace, the result can be better team work and improved individual performance, both of which serve to move businesses forward.
Most traditional workplaces leave little room for individual vulnerabilities. It’s just not cool to admit that you are struggling to cope with your workload, or with a difficult situation at home. This can be a real barrier to empathy.
So, if empathy is one of the hallmarks of a progressive and successful business, how can we encourage more of it?
Business leaders can start by working on their own empathy skills, taking time out with their coach to reflect on and understand their own emotions, abilities and behaviours.
This greater self-awareness helps them to make daily choices of mindset which in turn rewires their brain to be more empathetic.
Take millennial or ‘generation Z’ employees, some of whom have student debt of up to £50k. Try walking in their shoes for a while. What is it like to be burdened by this amount of debt? How does it impact on the way they feel about work, what they are looking for in a job and career progression?
And how about that employee who is returning to work after an extended period of leave, maybe because of sickness or family responsibilities? How has being away for so long affected their confidence? What changes have happened while they were away, that they now need to adjust to?
Making the effort to understand the reality of these, or any group, of employees, may lead to valuable insights and reveal pathways to strategies to attract and retain your best and most talented people. This not only demonstrates empathy, but builds loyalty.
We need to think of our businesses as a network of human relationships. By making space for vulnerability and demonstrating empathy, we enrich those human relationships and ultimately build more resilient businesses.