Aside from the statistics suggesting empathy will increase employee retention, empathy is important in the workplace because how we do one thing is how we do most things. We don’t typically lack empathy at work, yet go home or out in our communities with an abundance of empathy to spread. Our workplaces are among the places where we continue our education about life, relationship, and results. What we learn there can be used outside of work to make the world more empathetic. This is our responsibility, regardless of our title or status.
What do you do about the “emotional employee”?
I have been on both sides of the crying situations, even if my supervisors didn’t always know it. As an employee struggling to perform at the high level I desired, I wish my supervisor had said something like, “I can see by your response that doing a good job is important to you. Let’s talk about how to get your performance to a level that we will both be happy with.” Instead, I was admonished and left to figure it out on my own. Sometimes I did. At least one time I did not, and I was eventually fired for guessing incorrectly what my superiors wanted me to do. I left feeling like I had been set up for termination, and a court agreed with me.
How do you effectively improve empathy throughout your workplace?
Although not directly titled as such, I teach several courses on improving empathy, and my Third Ear Conflict Resolution process gives people a framework for building the skill. Specifically, Action Two of the process asks participants to not only look at their own thoughts, beliefs, wants, and needs, but to consider those of the people around them. We tend to forget that we’re dealing with other human beings who have also been hung up on, bumped into, ignored, yelled at, and more before we encountered them. We assume they had similar lives to ours, not considering that they might have survived abuse, crime, discrimination, poverty, or war—and that those experiences shaped them differently from us. The only action that will change this is compassionate conversation.
What steps do you take to help employees improve empathy if it doesn’t come naturally to them?
My book contains several exercises that can help employees practice in more comfortable environments. As they build skill in connecting more deeply with loved ones they trust, we move to people they fear. We delve into the fears, which are usually based on beliefs that they might have adopted from less credible sources than the individuals they fear. I facilitate conversations and help them connect, trust, and collaborate, asking them to “Stay on PARR”: Plan, Act, Revise, and Repeat, until they get the results they want. There is no quick fix, but a few minutes of practice each day will make it eventually look natural for them, if not also have it be natural.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq., is a workplace attorney, ethno-religious mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep you out of court and build your conflict resolution skills so everyone has a better work experience. She helps managers and business owners have empowering conversations about emotionally-charged issues such as gender, race, religion, and disability. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018 & 2019), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards).