In the modern workplace, individual traits like talent, vision and persistence can take you far. But they can only take you so far. Think about it: when was the last time you were able to accomplish something truly significant on your own, without any outside help?
In a hyper-connected world, the most successful organizations are increasingly defined by the quality of their connections. That’s where empathy comes in. When we acknowledge and try to understand the viewpoints of others, we’re much better at collaborating, building strong relationships and navigating the situations that inevitably arise at work (including disagreements and misunderstandings). Plus, it goes both ways: wouldn’t you like to know that your colleagues are willing to consider your point of view and put themselves in your shoes now and then?
When we grasp how fundamentally empathy can shape an organization, it’s hard to imagine a workplace functioning — let alone succeeding — without it. As a manager, there are simple steps you can take to ensure your direct reports understand that concern for others is central to who you are as an organization. Here are a few examples:
1. Break out of the workplace routine
Schedule a time each month or so for your team to spend time together without discussing work. It can be an off-site gathering, an in-office lunch — anything that lets people really connect. When co-workers get to know each other as people — with back stories, struggles, dreams, and lives beyond the office — empathy comes much more easily.
2. Encourage your employees to show vulnerability
It’s hard to empathize with someone who comes across as a driven, task-oriented, success machine. But your direct reports may not feel comfortable letting down their guard and expressing their authentic selves. At a team meeting, try leading by example and sharing an anecdote that shows an unexpected side of you — a time you failed, for example, or something you’re currently struggling with. Doing so can pave the way for a more compassionate and understanding environment.
3. Listen before you act
It sounds obvious, but sometimes our work performance can be affected by factors that have nothing to do with work. If one of your direct reports is underperforming, use a 1-on-1 meeting or evaluation to ask if everything’s OK. You’ll almost certainly learn something you didn’t know before, and once you know the fuller story, then you can begin to address performance issues.