The power of one small word, Empathy, and the compelling impact it has on job satisfaction, workplace motivation and productivity. It’s a hard sell. At first you might wonder what could workplace empathy possibly have to do with job performance. The answer?
A lot and more than you might realize.
How Does Empathy Work?
It’s simple science. Empathy neutralizes negativity. When you’re frustrated, angry or dissatisfied with a coworker, your ability to temporarily take that person’s perspective and see his or her point of view is a powerful tool. It softens your negative emotions, and both you and your colleague respond more positively, clearing the way for an equitable solution to the problem. Here’s an example. Imagine you’re having dinner with someone special in an expensive restaurant with candlelight, soft music and intimate conversation. Your server is invasive, impatient and short tempered. How would you feel? Most people would say annoyed or angry. Then the manager informs you that the server’s little boy was killed in a car wreck that she’s a single mom and has to work. Now how would you feel? Most people would say empathetic.
What changed? She’s still the same. But something inside you switched from anger to empathy because you automatically put yourself in her place. Chances are you feel kinder, and your actions toward her are positive despite her unprofessional behavior. Your empathy might even change your decision-making process. You might leave her a generous tip despite the poor service. The ability to temporarily take up residence in someone else’s perspective frees you from your own narrow thoughts and snap judgments. It neutralizes your hard feelings and imbues you with a softer approach to disputes and difficult employees.
What Does The Research Show?
Studies show that the expression of empathy has far-reaching effects in your personal and professional lives. It’s increasingly recognized as a pivotal leadership tool in today’s global market, benefiting leadership effectiveness.
Rae Shanahan, Chief Strategy Officer at Businessolver, just released an Empathy Study and found that nine out of ten employees, HR professionals and CEOs believe that empathy is important to an organization, especially when the company recognizes the importance of mental health. According to the findings, CEOs, in particular, are dialed in to the empathy conversation, calling for change in 2019. Over 90% of employees reported that mental health benefits is one of the biggest demonstrations of empathy. Fully 90% of employees said that an employer who recognizes the importance of mental health is more likely to retain employees. Employees believed when organizations provide mental health benefits or programs it can amp up productivity (48%) and motivation (42%), reduce turnover (39%) and create a sense of belonging in the organization (36%).
How Can Workplace Empathy Benefit Me?
In the workplace, you never know the hidden emotional burdens employees, coworkers or employers carry on a daily basis. But when you hold your judgment at arms length and get curious about an unpleasant or unacceptable situation, it can make a huge difference in how you respond and the work morale you create.
Gridlock occurs when you’re stuck in your own point of view, unable or unwilling to see a workplace issue from another party’s vantage point. You communicate your feelings as facts and turn a deaf ear to another person’s thoughts and feelings because you’ve already made up your mind that you’re right. You’re determined to force your point of view by commanding, finger pointing or criticizing and judging. Gridlock between two parties in the workplace leads to defensiveness, criticism, withdrawal and in some cases contempt—four signs of a complete breakdown of communication which can create negative morale and distrust in management, and lower job satisfaction, motivation and productivity.
Empathy isn’t endorsing poor job performance or even agreeing with the person in question. It’s simply suspending temporarily your point of view and walking in that person’s shoes for a brief time. It takes you out of gridlock from your own perspective and lets you see a situation from a colleague’s vantage point without agreement. And it helps you respond to job issues with less judgment and animosity and more maturity, objectivity, fairness and equability.
The key to creating strong and healthy workplace morale is good communication. Empathy gives you control over challenging work situations that you cannot control. It keeps you calm, cool and collected, holding your integrity intact. Stress-free, empathic relationships between management and employees and among coworkers are mutual, flow freely and have the following five qualities:
1. Both parties are willing to openly communicate about workplace problems and concerns.
2. Neither party is interested in conflict, judgment and criticism or in negative interpretations of each other’s actions.
3. Both parties strive for a harmonious connection through empathy and respect for the other’s point of view.
4. Overwhelming episodes of appreciation are frequent, and both parties are susceptible to receiving compassion and empathy and have an uncontrollable urge to extend it.
5. Both parties use a win-win strategy, instead of a win-lose approach, which automatically removes tension and conflict so that both parties benefit.
Can My Own Self-Empathy Benefit My Job Performance?
Absolutely. Studies show that you’re more likely to achieve success if you give yourself a healthy dose of self-compassion after you fail, miss a deadline or make a mistake. Coming down hard on yourself after a fumble reduces your chances of rebounding. Conversely, empathy for yourself after a setback motivates you to get back in the saddle. It is generally accepted that the more self-compassion you have the more empathy you can show to others. The best medicine is to be kind to yourself: talk yourself off the ledge; give yourself a pep talk or positive affirmation. Throw yourself a thumbs-up every time you finish a project, reach a successful milestone or accomplish a goal at work.