Monday, 11 february 2019 | Brenda Rodríguez López
The ability to see the world through someone else's eyes is a skill which is both desirable and necessary in the workplace. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is not always easy. However, when companies foster empathy at work, they are betting on teamwork, leadership, creativity, the achievement of goals, productivity and a good working environment. Unfortunately, this professional skill is often forgotten, underestimated or confronted from a wrong perspective. What happens when this occurs? Is there any way to foster empathy within companies? How to learn to be more empathetic with colleagues?
Behind a bad gesture, a misunderstanding may be hiding. Behind a defiant attitude, the idea of being underestimated. Behind a passive attitude, the firm conviction of getting eventually fired. There are no fixed rules for this kind of cases, since there are always many possible scenarios, and not all people react in the same way to the same context. Nonetheless, this kind of behaviors are often analyzed with coldness, rigidness and little reflection.
The lack of empathy often leads to the drawing wrong conclusions. This skill, which has been questioned sometimes, is vital for any professional, whatever their job is; from a veteran leader to the last employee joining the company. When professionals are able to go beyond their first impressions and make an effort to try to understand the context and feelings of their coworkers, they can adopt a more open and wider vision, generate trust, exercise an exemplary leadership, open up the doors of communication and lay the foundations to build an efficient and effective work team.
The empathic work environment
Companies are a faithful reflection of the people who are part of them. Tension and the lack of team spirit appear soon when empathy is conspicuous by its absence at work. The atmosphere becomes tense when this skill is not common among employees, managers or the relation which they have between both. First of all, it is important to note that having empathy does not mean adopting an enthusiastic and optimistic philosophy based on sympathy. This competence refers to the ability which people have to put themselves in someone else's shoes, either from an emotional or rational perspective.
Lack of empathy can lead to disaster. This is the case of the companies that have to face an important organizational change and do not establish an empathic communication. Crews must be always in the same boat as their captains so that their ships can reach the right ports. If managers do not know how to empathize with employees, they may not guide them well. Something which is indispensable in a process like this is to practice empathic listening. When facing changes, the best tool to use is a right communication: speaking honestly and openly, and considering the context of the others. The fewer doubts employees have about changes, the easier it is for them to cope with them.
When we speak of empathy, managerial positions play a large part of the discourse. Something we can consider logical if we take into account that bosses are the mirror in which their employees look at themselves. Good leaders should behave the way they want their employees to behave. But this article is not only aimed at top executives. The rest of workers can also go through bad times because of the disagreements they have with their colleagues. Many times, these conflicts can be solved with empathy and certain interest in sorting them out.