I’ve found myself becoming more and more interested in the subject of empathy of late. This post doesn’t seek to draw any conclusions, I just wanted to raise it as a discussion point again, with references to various pieces of research I’ve come across recently, which I hope you may find interesting.
It’s surprising isn’t it, how lacking in empathy some of us can be in the workplace. Whilst we may possess a huge amount of it within a family structure, once we walk through those doors at 9am (or is the problem because many are walking in at 7am and out at 9pm?), many become ‘switched off”. So why does this happen? And what happens if we’re not empathetic at all – both outside and inside the workplace? Can we acquire it? Is it a skill that we can pick up? One excellent video on this subject is this short video from Brene Brown, created for the RSA.
Almost every piece of research suggests that one of the requirements of any great leader is the ability to empathise. And the success of great teams has been attributed to the way they express empathy with each other, can read each other’s emotions and react well to them.
But if you’re someone who struggles with the idea of empathy, what is it exactly?
The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. I went to a talk last week from Yuno Juno on the Future of Work and part of the line up included a really great presentation from Keon Thewissen of Hyper Island. Their way of ensuring people have empathy in abundance was to introduce a ‘Formal Check In/out’ which is a way of ensuring people are present, seen and heard and able to express a reflection or a feeling. I’ve worked in some places where this process would horrify people (even a bout of mindfulness threw some over the edge), yet I’ve also worked in places where it would work brilliantly. So what happens if you happen to work in the former, where and how on earth do you begin to change the culture and humanise the workforce?
There is no doubt that to be someone of serious influence within an organisation, you need to know what is going through people’s minds. The more accurately we observe our colleagues and our customers, the better we become at understanding and thus connecting to their experiences. Hyper Island offer tips on how to help group dynamics and this post by Harvard looks at emotional intelligence as the hidden driver of great performance.
You’ll find more on the subject here posted by the Guardian from Sarah Shields, Exec Director at Dell UK on how empathy in the workplace can revolutionise business. I’m off to do some more research on the subject, but please feel do post any thoughts you have on the subject, below.