I have a friend who’s a project manager and who often has to train and manage new team members. Recently, one of her new hires was struggling with his tasks and making numerous mistakes, which she then had to go and correct herself.
As his manager, she easily could have criticized him and told him to be more careful. Instead, she reaffirmed her gratitude to have him on her team and told him it’s OK to make mistakes while learning.
In short, she put herself in his shoes and empathized with him. Our culture has taught us that being empathetic means being a pushover, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
At its core, empathy is all about respect. It’s about seeing and responding to the needs and experiences of the people around us, which makes it a powerful tool not only in relationships but also in the workplace. All people need to feel understood and valued in order to thrive, and this need does not leave once we step into the office each morning.
[Empathy] is about seeing and responding to the needs and experiences of the people around us.
In the case of the example mentioned above, my friend’s compassion led to greater mutual trust, collaboration and teamwork. No matter what our own workplace looks like—whether we work in retail or an office, for a corporation or a startup—there are endless opportunities for us to lead in implementing a culture of empathy.
It often begins by simply asking ourselves a few key questions such as: How are my fellow team members doing today? Am I more concerned about the project at hand than the people who are completing it? This could look like recognizing the pain behind a client’s rudeness, becoming aware of a coworker’s personal struggles or realizing an intern’s need for guidance—and then walking alongside them in their difficulties.
If we find ourselves more concerned with deadlines and perfection than those tasked with meeting those benchmarks, then it might be time for us to be more intentional about cultivating a greater mindfulness of the people around us and supporting their growth. It might be more natural for some of us than others, but it’s something we can all practice and improve upon.
It might be time for us to be more intentional about cultivating a greater mindfulness of the people around us and supporting their growth.
Brené Brown said it best, “Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, connecting emotionally and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”