The official definition of “empathy” by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
It does not take rocket science to realize that empathy not only supports a human-centered workplace, but it is also indeed critical to reach it. What can training professionals do to contribute and reinforce empathy in their organizational culture?
Here are eight specific tips for organization that is aiming to create a human-centered workplace:
1. Help link empathy to business objectives.
Continuously reinforce how empathy is not a “soft skill” but a hard skill that impacts an organization’s bottom line. In the past, top senior leaders could get by without being strong empaths. It was more important they could master critical thinking and navigate a detailed spread sheet than listening empathically and tuning into others’ (employees, customers, etc.) feelings. In today’s world, if leaders are not able to read and truly listen to their stakeholders, that could mean the end of the human-centered organization. Equally, any leader must have the ability and self-awareness to regulate their own and their teams’ emotions. The time is long gone when a leader could expect stakeholders to wait for a cleverly drafted response on a critical matter until they got the quarterly report. We have seen recent examples in the corporate world where leaders’ lack of listening and timely responses has put their entire organization at risk.
2. Train your top leaders to become more empathic.
Being empathic is a learnable skill. For some it will come more naturally than for others. A common misconception is that just because a leader is senior and experienced, they don’t need to work on their listening, feedback, coaching and general communication skills. Yes, they are fundamental skills for any leader. But, just like a golf pro will never stop practicing their swing, a leader should never stop enhancing and sharpening their communication skills.
3. Stress the importance of role modeling.
Every leader of another leader must know that one of their most important aspects of their job is indeed leadership development. A senior leader cannot “skip” empathy when connecting with their direct reports and then ask them to be empathic leaders to the front-line so that the front-line is empathic to customers). They need to walk the talk, and even amplify it.
4. Create space for others to connect.
Build a culture that allows for your people to pause and connect. This can be physical, such as in the spaces you create in your office environment, or virtually, with opportunities for team members to check in and connect with others. Stephen Covey famously said: “With people, fast is slow and slow is fast.” It might seem counterproductive in today’s fast-paced world, but to intentionally slow down to really hear and understand what is going on will save everyone time, money, energy and costly mistakes.
5. Celebrate and show case best practices and role models.
It’s easy to celebrate the achievement of the end goal, which is good. But even better is to look for examples where the end goal was achieved with the desired values and behaviors. It’s those behaviors that you want to emphasize and celebrate. How did a leader who used empathic skills reach new innovations and achieve business goals? Share not only the result, but the journey that got the team there.
As training professionals, there is also a unique opportunity to drive behavior change: in classrooms during workshops. Here are three additional tips for facilitators to consider:
- Lean in and listen. Stay away from the cliché opening and/or check-in at the workshop: the “Hey everyone, welcome to this session, how are you all doing?” (98% of the time you will get positive answers such as “great,” “fine,” or “all good”). Instead, you might ask, “Hey everyone, it’s lovely having you all here. Now before we get started, let me do a little temperature check. I want to get a better understanding of how we are all doing. Take a moment and reflect on your day. What are the three most dominant feelings you have experienced since you woke up this morning?” With that opening, you will likely get a much better understanding on how your participants are really doing. It gives a facilitator important insights about the team and/or individuals they are about to spend the day with. Acknowledging these feelings and meeting the participants where they are will make a huge difference. And it reinforces a human-centered
- Create space for others to connect. Often, many facilitators are so focused on covering all their learning objectives in the short time they have been allotted. A common mistake is to not leave enough room for the participants to connect. The classroom (whether virtual or in person) has the unique chance to create this space. When leaders (and other participants) pause from their everyday rhythm and get the chance to really talk and listen to each other, it’s often the best way to exemplify what a difference it makes to do so. It can inspire others to go out and create more moments for connection in their own teams.
- Lead by example. Don’t underestimate the role of the facilitator as a leader. And the importance of the leader to role model. Make sure that all those skills and qualities we are looking for are being showcased throughout. Show your learners what it feels like to experience truly empathic leadership.