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A pertinent question for the post COVID workforce is, can empathy be learnt? Should it be practiced only by the leaders, or by everyone – can it be seamlessly woven into the fabric of the organization? We are seeing that dynamics at play for remote teams is little unpredictable, making each day uniquely challenging. Empathy is manifested through mindful behaviours, where one’s action is recognized as genuine, personal, and specific to the situation. A few people can be empathetic all the time, a few, practice it consciously, and a few are unaware of it.
Empathy is a natural human response that can be practiced by everyone at work for nurturing an environment of trust. We often confuse empathy for sympathy – while sympathy is feeling sorry for one’s situation, empathy is understanding one’s feelings and needs, and putting the effort to offer authentic support. It requires a shift in perspective, and building trust, respect, and compassion at a deeper level. As Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft says, “Empathy is a muscle that needs to be exercised.”
Here are three ways to consciously practice empathy at work –
- Going beyond yourself
It takes a lot to forget how we feel that day, or what is priority for us. However, to be empathetic, one needs to be less judgemental. When one is consciously practicing empathy, one needs to be patient with yourself, your thoughts, and not compare yourself with the person you are empathizing with. If we get absorbed by our own needs, it gets difficult to be generous and compassionate. We need to remember empathy leads to influence and respect, and for that we should not get blind sighted by our perceptions.
- Being a mindful and intentional listener
While practicing empathy, one has refrain from criticism, and be mindful of not talking about one’s problems. We may get sympathetic and give unsolicited advice. Sometimes it only takes to be an intentional listener, by avoiding distractions, and having a very positive body language, and demeanour. This will enable us to ask right questions and collaborate towards a solution.
- Investing in the person
Very often, we support our colleagues and co-workers by responding to their email requests. However, by building positive workplace relationships, and knowing the person beyond his/her email id, makes it much easier to foster empathy. Compassion needs to be not just in words, but in action too, and that can happen only by knowing the person. Taking interest in a co-worker or a team member, beyond a professional capability, does not come out of thin air. It takes conscious continuous efforts to get to know the person, showing care and concern, which will help us to relate to the myriad challenges they go through – be it chronic illness, child care that correlates to his/her ability to engaged at work. It will enable us to personalize the experience, and see the person’s point of view, holistically.
When we take that genuine interest in how we make others feel and experience, we start mindfully practicing empathy. Empathy fosters respect. Empathy helps resolves conflicts better, empathy builds stronger teams, empathy inspires one another to work towards collective goals, and empathy breaks authority. Does it take that extra bit of time to consciously practice it? Yes, but it is all worth it.