Monday, November 25, 2013

Empathy - you don't need to be certified

Ever since starting this blog I've read a lot of articles and stories about empathy. I've seen stories written by psychologists, by medical doctors, and by economists. All of these people have a podium and are using their influence to say that empathy is good, and here's how it's good for people who work in 'my profession'. I say that anyone can join this party; empathy is good for any job where you have to work with other people.

For example, I work for a large company. I have co-workers, managers and clients. If I'm thinking about how my clients/co-workers/managers are feeling, then I'm listening to them. Developing those 'listening well' skills is a great way to do business because:

1. It helps me to get along better with my clients. I'm spending effort listening to their needs, and getting them what they need within the constraints of my job. So my clients (in turn) like me more, and want to keep doing business with me. They give me great feedback after projects are complete, so my manager is happy (see #3 below).

2. It helps me to get along better with my co-workers. I'm spending time listening to not just what my co-workers are asking me to do but also how they are feeling about the work.* So my co-workers (in turn) find me easy to work with, and want to keep me on interesting projects. If I stay busy I'm more likely to stay employed. Also they give me great feedback after our projects are complete, so my manager is happy (see #3 below).

3. It helps me to get along better with my managers and leadership in general. Also, as per #1 and #2 above, feedback from others is positive so my manager wants to keep me around. My manager may also want me to develop further, so I can keep spreading these streams of empathy around the company.

What do you do? Would empathy help in your job?


*I'm assuming that you've spent time, at one point in your life, listening to a co-worker complain about work. That is not what I'm talking about here; I'm talking about listening to the person who is having trouble admitting that they made a mistake, and needs to express it without feeling like they'll be beat up for it. If someone had not been there for me, letting me know it was okay to make mistakes and move on, I wouldn't be good at what I do. 


Wire said...

That bit about admitting mistakes is huge. In my experience there can be a lot of unnecessary friction and tension at work when something goes wrong and everyone's scared of getting in trouble. Empathy can help get people past this hurdle so they can move on and productively fix the problem instead of hiding from it. It doesn't even have to be overt. It can be just a] being aware of the other person's defensiveness and then b] keeping your tone and body language non-threatening.

Janet said...

Agreed! If I am aware of how my co-worker is feeling, I can sense that they are getting defensive or scared.

I've seen and felt in myself how that angry feeling will get in the way of my own ability to communicate the real problem. Thinking about that makes it easier for me to look at other people - and see that there's something else behind a co-worker's angry comments.