Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Empathy 101

So you took the quizzes on Monday and find yourself lacking a bit in the empathy department? Never fear! I’ve got some tips to help you be more empathetic in the workplace.

The Compliment Coach  says “True empathy can only occur when we have shed preconceived ideas and judgments about others—and when we’re comfortable with others’ deep feelings.”

Perception. There it is again. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy.

So how can you be more empathetic? First, you need to clear your mind of all those perceptions that you have formed already and stop assuming you know what your co-worker is wanting from you. Clear your mind and really listen to what your co-worker has to say, without adding your own thoughts and perceptions to it. Try to put yourself in your co-workers shoes, think the way your co-worker might think and otherwise look at the situation from his viewpoint.

Don’t be afraid to be emotional and to share feelings. I’m not suggesting that you sit around and cry all day long, but as a leader, you are responsible for the people who work under you within the company. Get to know them as people, get to know how they feel about certain ideas and subjects, and understand what makes them tick. The more you know about a person, the more you will be able to understand their point of view and listen empathetically to them.

But what if I just really don’t like them, you ask? I know it can be really hard to put aside preconceived perceptions and opinions about someone you don’t care for in order to truly listen empathetically to them. My tip for this is to pretend like your opponent is your best friend – how would you treat your best friend if they felt that way? Would you still have such a negative opinion of them? Try to imagine that the person you are in conflict with is someone you admire greatly and treat them as such. Just that slight shift in perception will allow you to be more open and willing to listen.

A note about privacy: As your style as an empathetic leader grows, you will have better relationships and communication with your co-workers. This may lead to conversations that need to remain confidential. Never divulge private information about a coworker that you learned through a conversation to other coworkers. Gossip will only ruin any positive benefits you have created from becoming an empathetic listener.

For more great tips about improving your empathy skills, check out these great websites:

The Compliment Quotient

Leadership Cache

Workplace 911

The Bug In Your Ear

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