Friday Reflections

I recently downloaded a great white paper from Shola Kaye concerning Empathy in the workplace. Effectively she puts forward the case that there is an increasing need for greater empathy in leadership based on a number of factors:
  • The shift to home or hybrid working following the pandemic leaving some people feeling more isolated.
  • The Great Resignation or the Big Quit has been well-documented with people looking for improved work life balance or greater sense of belonging and fulfilment from their careers.
  • And a greater exposure and awareness of both social justice movements and, also in mind, neurodiversity has led for a demand in equitable treatment and for any systemic unfairness to be addressed.

In his talk, “Understanding Empathy” Simon Sinek states that “if you want to be a great leader, start with empathy, if you want to be a great leader change your perspective and play the game your actually playing.”

But what do we mean by Empathy in the workplace, or empathetic leadership? There is a fabulous, animated video by RSA and Brené Brown on Empathy. In it Brené talks about the difference between sympathy with empathy. Where for her sympathy is: I feel bad FOR you while Empathy is I feel WITH you. It is her view that Sympathy can make us feel more alone whereas Empathy helps us feel connected. There’s a great line where she says “rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with “At least…”

She discusses 4 key steps to showing empathy:

  • Perspective Taking or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
  • Staying out of judgement, not easy, and listening.
  • Recognizing emotion in another person that you have maybe felt before.
  • and Communicating that you can recognize that emotion.

Simon Sinek uses the example of someone cutting into your lane on a motorway, how we immediately react and get angry, how we may try and block them. We have been wronged and they have done wrong. However, if we shift focus from our perspective to theirs and practice empathy – maybe they don’t know the roads and are lost, confused by the unknown layout, maybe they are running late for a hospital appointment that they simply have to get too … or maybe they are just aggressive drivers. But we don’t know, and that is the point, we don’t know. As he puts it If we practice empathy, we will accept we don’t know and let them in and the only consequence is that we will arrive to our destination just one car length later.

Empathy is seeing the person and relating to what they might be going through. It is powerful. One of the favourite sayings of a wonderful coach I had is simply “don’t make them wrong”. I might be moaning about pay negotiations with Trade Unions or ranting about how I cannot understand a group of people’s negative reactions when clearly, we are acting in their best interest. I cannot believe they did this, poor me.

But she would say to me whoever “they” may be, don’t make them wrong. We don’t have to be right; we don’t have to win and I think you have to let go of that in order to start to consider the other person perspective to really listen to what they are saying. I believe if you make them wrong, even just in your mind, you have lost the opportunity for both you and them.   Empathy is a choice, perhaps a vulnerable one, but as such all the more powerful.

We love working with leaders on the shadow they create and helping them have a positive impact on their people. The links to Shola’s white paper and both the Simon Sinek and Brené Brown videos are listed below.

Empathy in the workplace white paper | Shola Kaye

Brené Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

Simon Sinek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi86Nr9Mdms