em·pa·thy | \ ˈem-pə-thē\
Definition of empathy
1 : 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
I’m sure you can think of a heated or stressful work life situation, where you felt that a perfect comeback was in order. A precise (possibly biting) response that might preclude any future discussion or debate. The perfect word salad, to prove your point and end any confusion concerning who was in the right.
However, I’d like to pitch a radical technique that I often discuss with coaching clients. A technique that could change the tenor of the moment. A technique that might offer an alternative avenue to help you through a frustrating situation.
So — here it is.
Double-down on empathy. The ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and possibly walk in their world for just a moment. Empathy is an often undervalued work life strategy for a number of reasons. This may be pride-based. Ego-based. Habit-based.
Here are a few thoughts about empathy — and how we might make a habit of maximizing its potential.
- The gut response. Our “fight or flight” reflex often stops us from applying empathy. We might anger quickly or have little patience to move beyond the initial emotional hurdle. In these cases, a lack of empathy might operate as a means of protection.
- We right empathy off. I challenge you to pick a work life scenario (if it is recurring, even better) that you would not normally apply empathy. Now try it on. Is there a colleague that you interact with regularly, that you just can’t seem to tolerate? Is there a client you find particularly grating? These could be opportunities to see issues from a very different perspective.
- Finding empathetic inspiration. We often undervalue our own potential for empathy. Think of situations where you have felt true empathy for someone else at work — and remind yourself that this emotion lives within you. Moreover, think of situations where you would have personally benefited from empathy. How might another have behaved to make you feel supported? Now take that knowledge and apply it.
- Be “empathy” accountable. With any behavioral change, you should monitor progress. This demands that you reflect on what you have been doing that is different. Be sure to note when you’ve infused more empathy within your daily work life. Record what you said and did. How did this affect others? How did the change make you feel?
Infusing empathy into work life, likely has benefits that we simply cannot measure. Have you noticed this dynamic? Share your experiences in comments.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who explores the value of core stability to empower work & career. She helps people & teams build a stronger work life foundation through The Core Masterclass. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.