It is one of the most frequently heard complaints from employees about their supervisor and/or colleagues: the lack of empathy. Being able to empathize with the feelings and experiences of others is a powerful skill that can be extremely valuable in the workplace and anywhere else in your life.
Unfortunately, the cliché of the rude boss or the insensitive colleague who drives others mad at times is still alive. Everyone knows a colleague or manager with whom he has sometimes wondered whether he or she has an ounce of feeling in his or her body at all. This is why so many employees are pissed off.
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Fortunately, such behavior has recently become more negotiable, stronger, and in many cases it is no longer tolerated in the workplace. It fits completely in the current era: taking others into account. A development in which certain entrenched habits are re-examined. Whether it concerns sexism, discrimination or structural abuse of power; public debates in this regard are currently being held. The ability or inability to show empathy plays an important role in this. But let me first explain a bit about what empathy is.
What is empathy?
Empathy goes much further than “taking the other into account.” There is literally something calculated in that term, which does not cover the whole meaning here. Empathetic ability is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others. Being open to the other person’s emotions, attitude and motivation and understanding the impact your actions and behavior can have on another is also called cognitive empathy. Some people can empathize so much that they also feel the emotions of others as for themselves. We call this affective empathy. The term emotional intelligence is also closely related to this; the ability to recognize certain emotions in others and to deal with them in the right way.
Brené Brown, who worked as a social worker for many years, has given a now world-famous TED talk about the power of vulnerability. She wrote a book of the same name about it, which promptly became a bestseller. She tells (and writes) about her own insecurities and cites striking examples, studies and observations. With this she shows that vulnerability is not a form of weakness, but a way to create connections. And it is vulnerability that is the basis of empathy. By recognizing your own insecurities, imperfections and dilemmas, you will also better understand those of others and the associated emotions,
As a manager (and as an employee) empathy is therefore a nice quality. However, not everyone is born with the same dose of empathy and empathy cannot be forced. Affective empathy in particular is difficult to learn, whether it is in you or not. However, cognitive empathy is easy to develop. It mainly has to do with how you position yourself, show genuine interest in people, seek the connection without self-interest and manipulation and in the way you ask questions. It is a quality that would fit each one of us. Here is how you can learn this.
Tips for developing empathy
- Get to know yourself better, engage in self-reflection. How do you feel and how does that affect your attitude and behavior? By recognizing yourself, your character, your habits, and your behavior, you can also better understand other people and the way people respond to you.
- Read lots of books and watch movies. Good literature and films allow you to automatically move into the motives of the characters how they react to situations and why.
- Be open to criticism. This creates an open atmosphere in which people feel more free, mutual communication improves and others deal with criticism more easily.
- Think first, then talk. We often have a tendency to respond directly to the other and have an opinion about everything. Waiting a few seconds and weighing your words can make a huge difference, especially in the workplace.
- Ask questions, but do so on a topic that you are really interested in. Don’t fake interest, people will quickly see through that.
- Listen actively. Ask open questions, summarize something now and then, keep asking questions and share your own experiences on the subject. And especially take the time for these kinds of conversations with colleagues. A connecting conversation cannot be interrupted quickly.
Emotions at work
To many people, the above terms such as vulnerability and emotions may sound a bit lofty and woolly. At work, they think that the work comes first. Some experts agree. They are not a fan of the emphasis on empathy in the workplace. They see the workplace primarily as functional and propagates distance. They might be wrong and produce a lot of pissed off employees.
Don’t get me wrong
Incidentally, empathy does not mean that we have to cuddle with each other all day long or that you have to explain every argument with your partner during the quarterly figures meeting or that you can sniffle and cry for the slightest thing in the office. But a workplace where colleagues have an eye for each other and help each other on a human level and can be of support, should be more than normal in 2020.
And yes, not everyone will feel comfortable with the tips given, in fact, some of you might not even understand them completely. For those of you with narcissistic tendencies for example.
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