EMPATHY is now a major skill needed in growing an innovation mindset in an organization as it helps business leaders come up with better solutions, Google LLC’s Chief Innovation Evangelist Frederik G. Pferdt said.
“Empathy is the skill of the future, and practicing empathy every day as a business leader, for example, helps you understand what your employees need and what your immediate team actually needs right now, So, putting yourself into their situation, to really understand how they really think and feel, helps you come up with better solutions for your employees,” Mr. Pferdt said at a virtual forum on Jan. 29.
He noted that innovation is now in great demand due to the pandemic crisis.
“In the past, everyone wanted to innovate. Now, everyone needs to innovate. This pandemic allows everyone to do things differently and has been a key innovation accelerator for companies and individuals who are trying to not only survive the crisis, but finally move forward again,” he said.
Hence, business leaders should help their teams develop an innovation mindset, he said. Aside from practicing empathy, it is important that business leaders are able to reframe challenges into opportunities, Mr. Pferdt noted.
“Reimagine tomorrow, today. How can or should tomorrow be different? What could a better world look like? Mindset matters!” he said. “Small and big experiments lead to learning how the future could work,” he added.
He also said the power of rituals can be used in organizations to build a “sense of belonging and cohesion in times of distance.”“Leaders need to identify values, craft powerful rituals, and foster a future-ready culture that’s prepared for the new normal. After all, you need trust and collaboration to establish a culture of innovation.”
Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trends Report, an annual survey that charts the evolution of marketing, advertising, e-commerce, creative and technology professionals, also identified empathy as the driver of experience.
“Empathy is an under-utilized differentiator that is accessible to all by combining their depth of customer and product knowledge and then demonstrating it at critical stages in the experience,” the report said.
“Understanding how people feel is an essential, but often an overlooked part of the experience. Analyzing and anticipating their reactions at decision points and during moments of friction will make the process work better for both sides,” it explained.
Technology is radically transforming the world of work. But despite AI’s rapid advancements, robots will never be able to do everything humans can. Saadia Zahidi explains how creativity and empathy will be more important in the future, as jobs grow in professions such as caregiving and teaching. But for workers to keep with change, reskilling, upskilling and retraining is essential. Here’s what you need to know about the skills you’ll need to stay ahead.
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On March 29, BTS shared a sincere, heartfelt message advocating for the hashtags #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate. The empathetic message expresses grief and anger toward those who recently lost their loved ones as a result of hate crimes, and the BTS members also collectively shared their own experiences with racial discrimination, in a powerful statement of advocacy. Meanwhile, BTS will be releasing their newest Japanese single “Film Out” on April 2.
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The concept of empathy has become ubiquitous in corporate culture—though some would argue that it’s just a trend. On a societal level, though, we’re dealing with an empathy crisis—and as creatives, the solution’s in our hands.
What is empathy?
Psychologists and empathy specialists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman have broken empathy down into not just one definition, but three different types.
Cognitive empathy is understanding what another human being is feeling, and potentially what they are thinking. Having cognitive empathy leads to better communication, negotiation, and motivation.
Emotional empathy is actually feeling what another person feels, whether that is joy or pain. We may feel the same whether we experience the emotion or whether we see someone else experience it. Daniel describes this as emotional contagion, which could be attributed to themirror neuron concept.
Compassionate empathy is both understanding a person’s situation and feeling for them, ultimately resulting in some kind of action.
What empathy isn’t
Empathy isn’t simply a soft skill, a fluffy feel-good term, or a tool for business. Empathy also isn’t about becoming so absorbed in a person or a situation that you let others take advantage of you.
Katherine Bell, former editor of Harvard Business Review, put it eloquently when she described her experience with empathy.
“I’ve learned that empathy isn’t about being nice or tolerant. It’s not about feeling sorry for people or giving them the benefit of the doubt. It’s an act of imagination in which you try to look at the world from the perspective of another person, a human being whose history and point of view are as complex as your own.”
Empathy in action
Empathy is an absolutely critical piece of a productive and functioning relationship. It’s the driving force of my business; I run Make a Mark, an organization bringing together altruistic creators and innovative humanitarian organizations. We hold 12-hour design and development make-a-thons benefitting local nonprofit organizations.
We learned early on that empathy is critical to the make-a-thon process, and we still take care to nurture that element of all the make-a-thons we run. Our projects are successful because of the depth of the relationships, community, and, ultimately, a strong sense of empathy beginning with the organizers.
As part of this, we work with site leaders around the globe to help craft the events. These site leaders are our eyes on the ground, working to build the perfect event for their specific community with our guidance and framework.
These two groups often have no understanding of how the other functions. Makers might talk about wireframes and vector files and hosting, while nonprofit leaders might talk about line items or tax codes or grant monitoring.
Our role is to facilitate successful brainstorming and build mutual respect—through empathy. While being empathetic leads to a more understanding, caring, and actionable society, it also leads to better results. Success comes from understanding who we work with—and for.
That is why in 12 hours, maker teams can craft something that would normally take months to create. They dig in so deeply with such open hearts and minds that the result is also always magical—often leaving nonprofits and makers in tears.
Create a better workflow
Understanding your coworkers is a key function of empathy in the workplace. In the US, we spend roughly 1/3 of our adult life at work—meaning we spend more of our waking hours with our coworkers than our family members.
While this is a trend that I certainly hope changes, with more remote companies like InVision and the opportunity to start our own initiatives, this means that finding ways to collaborate effectively and positively with our coworkers is key to our success and our happiness.
Being able to deeply relate to your clients is an essential element of empathy. In our relationships with nonprofits, we understand that their working lives are very different than our lives, or the lives of a designer in New York or developer in San Francisco; nonprofit employees often spend their days underpaid, under-resourced, and scrutinized by grant monitors, all while attempting to serve their populations.
While we are the experts on design and development for these organizations, these individuals are also experts in their fields—and we have a lot that we can learn from them. In 2016, at our second make-a-thon in Virginia, we were meeting with an organization providing temporary housing to the homeless during the cold winter months.
They applied for the make-a-thon needing a new website, and when we met with them and their maker team we were prepared to craft a sleek, feature-rich website. It became clear, however, after a few minutes of talking to their representative, that the real need was getting the information about the shelter to those experiencing homelessness—most of whom don’t have computers. But they do have smartphones.
We immediately scrapped the idea of a stylish and robust website and decided to focus on something hyper-simple and incredibly mobile-friendly. If we hadn’t paused to understand what the person experiencing homelessness was feeling and thinking (cognitive empathy), felt the struggle of that individual to find a place to stay (emotional empathy), and re-thought our whole approach to creating their website (compassionate empathy), then we wouldn’t have brought a useful, relevant solution for the nonprofit and their population in dire need.
So how do we actively build empathy? Is there any way to actually increase our empathy, especially in our work? Absolutely!
Too often we assume that we know the answer to questions from past experiences; that we know what a person is like and how they will act. Alternatively, we may view someone as so different from us that there is no way that we could collaborate or reach a common ground.
By asking questions, we challenge existing notions and increase our cognitive empathy. A few examples: How does this situation make you feel? What is the outcome you are hoping for? Can you explain your perspective to help me understand?
Of course, it isn’t just about the question that you ask; it’s also about the way that you ask it. Make sure that you approach the other calmly and openly so they don’t feel attacked or criticized. Asking questions is easy, but listening can be hard—because we regularly listen for the answers we want to hear.
Listening requires both your eyes and your ears. You can learn a lot from someone’s body language. Are they tense? Why are they tense? Is it because this topic is uncomfortable to them? If so, why? This leads to additional questions.
By listening, asking questions, and listening some more, we’re able to extend our cognitive empathy.
Consider outside factors (and leave your ego at the door)
Listening with both senses gives us insight into who people are—and why they are that way.
Maybe a coworker walks into the office in the morning and ignores your hello. This doesn’t mean that you are the cause of their frustration, even if you are the recipient of it.
I recall a time in a past job that a coworker that I worked closely with was consistently sending terse emails to me about materials that she was waiting for. These emails came frequently and often for no reason, straining our relationship. I dismissed this coworker as hostile and limited interactions with her, leading to poor collaborations and sub-par results.
I eventually spoke to another coworker about the situation and was informed that she was working to maintain her composure while her father was struggling with a chronic illness.
This opened my eyes to the vast situations that we all experience and improved my emotional empathy. I asked myself how I would maintain my positive attitude and interactions with coworkers while someone I loved deeply was struggling physically? How would I want my coworkers to treat me?
Allow time for reflection
Reflection is something that I personally value immensely. Anytime I am part of a meeting that I am not leading myself, I am radio silent. Ok, maybe not radio silent, but I like to listen and take in the information, digest it and return with my perspective.
Not everyone works like this, and not everyone should; if they did, meetings would be a bunch of people sitting around a table staring at each other. This reflection period, however, has its place—and certainly a role in building empathy.
We take in a lot of information every day, navigating complicated personal and professional relationships with coworkers and clients. With all that thinking, we need to spend some time reflecting—to better understand, navigate, and nurture those relationships.
With some thoughtfulness and a lot of care, empathy can be yours. This doesn’t mean you need to do something right at this moment, but keep in mind the outside forces, the internal struggles, and the predispositions of those you’re working with. Ask questions, listen, and reflect. Then, do what you believe is right—for your company, for your work, for others and for yourself.
Sarah Obenauer is the Founder & Director of Make a Mark, an organization created to provide resources and foster an environment where community organizations and visual communicators can engage with one another to better our world.Make a Mark’s flagship event is a 12-hour design and development marathon benefiting humanitarian causes.
Empathy is a cornerstone for successful relationships, but it is a quality that has to be intentional. Most people like to feel understood, but the mark of maturity is in knowing how to demonstrate understanding. In the end, the understanding you wish to receive becomes more likely. Dr. Les Carter shares a story, then 9 essential adjustments that will help you become a more empathetic person.
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As long as we have generations, we will have the following: nods of disapproval, eye rolls and facepalms while we take a deep breath. There’s just something about the generation older and younger than on our own that makes us do these things.
SPOILER ALERT: They are doing the same things to us.
Bridging the Generation Gap with Empathy
For many, this triggering of emotions through seemingly uncontrollable body language appears as a sign of disrespect. But for me, it shows a lack of empathy on everyone’s part — an unwillingness to understand the other person. It is that emptiness of empathy that is a regular struggling point between generations.
Empathy, the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, is one of the most important traits we can have. Leading with empathy creates a road map that will always benefit both parties.
I’ve always felt that at the root of any disagreement or displeasure with a situation is a deep misunderstanding of that situation. When we have “had enough” of someone, we’ll often use phrases like “I’m trying to get him to understand,” or “doesn’t she realize,” “I don’t get what he’s doing.”
For the first time in my life I’m feeling smack dab in the middle of two generations. I have my parents on one side and my daughter on the other. Being in this position, I’ve also found that I’ve become more dependent on my parents and daughter.
When I am asked for assistance or perhaps seek it out, many times, without thinking straight, I want it on my terms; this is how I would do it, so this is how you should do it.
But it does not work that way, regardless of which generation you are dealing with.
Technology and the growing dependence our world has on it, has become an area of friction between Baby Boomers and, well, pretty much every generation after them. For example, my mom was having a problem with something on her phone, and I asked her “to text me a screen cap” of what she was seeing. Huh? That phrase is literally a foreign language to her and many people.
This struggle regularly shows up in the workplace. Technology aids us in doing things more efficiently and keeping us better connected. So when someone is out of the loop or working slower, it’s just so irritating … to us. And while many people will forever be stuck in their old ways, there are many that are willing to learn. But we need to understand that not everyone learns at the same pace. If we gain a better understanding of why someone is having trouble, then we can help find the right solution.
When it comes to my daughter, our struggles are mostly about time management. Up until she was 10, she was pretty content going with the flow of whatever myself and my wife were up to. If we said we were going somewhere, she was going too. She also rarely suggested play dates, sleepovers or trips to the mall. This all changed once she became a tween.
Now she wants to do all of those things, all of the time. Those trips to the mall, the roller rink, coffee shops and trampoline cost money and perhaps even worse, my time … and my wife’s time and the time of the other parents.
If they want to do these things, someone has to drive them and in some cases wait for them. While it’s easy to say no, because it would inconvenience me, I have to remember to empathize.
Whenever I am using “I” too much in a conflict, I do not fully understand the big picture. I have to remember what it was like to be 12 years old and not want to sit at home on a Saturday. I have to remember what it’s like to walk around a mall with my friends, the freedom, the fun. I have to remember what it feels like to always hear the word “no.”
And so I oblige, sometimes.
But I also use it as an opportunity to teach empathy. When the answer is “no,” she needs to understand why. Because “no” isn’t because I don’t want her to be with her friends — which would be the assumption and why she would get angry with me. It’s usually because the ask is disrupting an already scheduled out day. I’ve noticed her approach has been different lately.
She now asks “are we doing anything later today,” or tomorrow, or on Saturday night, etc. She has a much better understanding of our situations and how she needs to consider them so she can have the result she wants.
There’s No “I” in Empathy
Earlier I mentioned phrases that are often born out of frustration we are having with someone. Those phrases all included the “I.” I have found whenever I am using “I” too much in dealing with conflict, then I do not fully understand the big picture.
I am not empathizing.
It’s when “I” turns into “we” that we can reach the ideal compromise. And when we have compromise through empathy, the walls built between generations become be much smaller.
In a fractured world, can we hack our own sense of empathy and get others to become more empathic? Professor, Department of Psychology, Stanford University Jamil Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University. His research examines social cognition and behavior, especially how people understand and respond to each other’s emotions. This work spans a number of domains, social influence, prosocial behavior, and especially empathy (see ssnl.stanford.edu for details). In addition to studying the mechanics of empathy, Dr. Zaki’s work focuses on helping people empathize better. For instance, new research from his lab examines how to encourage empathy for people from distant political and ethnic groups, and also how caregivers and healthcare professionals can effectively empathize with their patients while maintaining their own well being. http://ssnl.stanford.edu
Understanding what other people want, how they feel, and how they see the world is becoming increasingly important in our complex, globalized society. Social skills enable us to make friends and create a network of people who support us. But not everyone finds it easy to interact with other people. One of the main reasons is that two of the most important social skills — empathy, i.e. being able to empathize with the other person’s emotions, and the ability to take a perspective, i.e. being able to gain an information by adopting another person’s point of view — are developed to different degrees.
Researchers have long been trying to find out what helps one to understand others. The more you know about these two social skills, the better you can help people to form social relationships. However, it still not exactly clear what empathy and perspective taking are (the latter is also known as “theory of mind”).
Being able to read a person’s emotions through their eyes, understand a funny story, or interpret the action of another person — in everyday life there are always social situations that require these two important abilities. However, they each require a combination of different individual subordinate skills. If it is necessary to interpret looks and facial expressions in one situation, in another it may be necessary to think along with the cultural background of the narrator or to know his or her current needs.
To date, countless studies have been conducted that examine empathy and perspective taking as a whole. However, it has not yet been clarified what constitutes the core of both competencies and where in the brain their bases lie. Philipp Kanske, former MPI CBS research group leader and currently professor at the TU Dresden, together with Matthias Schurz from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and an international team of researchers, have now developed a comprehensive explanatory model.
“Both of these abilities are processed in the brain by a ‘main network’ specialised in empathy or changing perspective, which is activated in every social situation. But, depending on the situation, it also involves additional networks,” Kanske explains, referring to the results of the study, which has just been published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. If we read the thoughts and feelings of others, for example, from their eyes, other additional regions are involved than if we deduce them from their actions or from a narrative. “The brain is thus able to react very flexibly to individual requirements.”
For empathy, a main network that can recognise acutely significant situations, for example, by processing fear, works together with additional specialised regions, for example, for face or speech recognition. When changing perspective, in turn, the regions that are also used for remembering the past or fantasising about the future, i.e., for thoughts that deal with things that cannot be observed at the moment, are active as the core network. Here too, additional brain regions are switched on in each concrete situation.
Through their analyses, the researchers have also found out that particularly complex social problems require a combination of empathy and a change of perspective. People who are particularly competent socially seem to view the other person in both ways — on the basis of feelings and on the basis of thoughts. In their judgement, they then find the right balance between the two.
“Our analysis also shows, however, that a lack of one of the two social skills can also mean that not this skill as a whole is limited. It may be that only a certain factor is affected, such as understanding facial expressions or speech melody,” adds Kanske. A single test is therefore not sufficient to certify a person’s lack of social skills. Rather, there must be a series of tests to actually assess them as having little empathy, or as being unable to take the other person’s point of view.
The scientists have investigated these relationships by means of a large-scale meta-analysis. They identified, on the one hand, commonalities in the MRI pattern of the 188 individual studies examined when the participants used empathy or perspective taking. This allowed the localisation of the core regions in the brain for each of the two social skills. However, results also indicated how the MRI patterns differed depending on the specific task and, therefore, which additional brain regions were used.
Matthias Schurz, Joaquim Radua, Matthias G. Tholen, Lara Maliske, Daniel S. Margulies, Rogier B. Mars, Jerome Sallet, Philipp Kanske. Toward a hierarchical model of social cognition: A neuroimaging meta-analysis and integrative review of empathy and theory of mind.. Psychological Bulletin, 2020; DOI: 10.1037/bul0000303
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. “Empathy and perspective taking: How social skills are built.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110090427.htm>.
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Workingmums.co.uk hosted two employer workshops on how empathy can be used to create a more engaged, productive workforce in November led by Oliver Hansard and Joss Mathieson from Catalyst Thinking Partners.
Opening the first workshop, Hansard said that, in a world where we are in control of so little that is going on, empathy is a key skill. It is no use having technical ability without having the skills to unlock people’s potential, he stated. He argued that empathy is generative rather than passive, meaning that it guides people’s actions.
Mathieson said Covid has shown the importance of engagement and regular communication and added that empathy is crucial for dealing with a culture of change. If change is handled badly and with a lack of empathy, it can knock people sideways for months, he said. People’s attitude to change is deeply personal, he added, so we need to understand what it means to individuals to ensure people are able to deal with it effectively.
Hansard and Mathieson asked what people understood by the term empathy. Empathy is not only about understanding another person’s perspective, but it guides what actions should be taken and what support might be required. In volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times we also need VUCA leadership is required, said Hansard and Mathieson, that is, leadership focused on being Valiant, Understanding, Compassionate and Authentic:
– Valiance is about not being afraid to show that you don’t know everything, to ask what others think and to do the right thing; – Understanding is about understanding how others feel; – Compassion is about being consistently thoughtful, even in challenging circumstances; – Authenticity is about being genuine and honest and not being afraid to show vulnerability, for instance, to talk about what it is really like living through this pandemic.
Hansard and Mathieson pointed out that there is often a discrepancy between how empathetic CEOs think they and their company are versus what employees perceive. A recent workplace empathy survey from Businesssolver showed, for instance, that 68% of CEOs think their companies are empathetic, compared to 48% of employees, and that 76% of employees think empathy leads to greater productivity compared to 52% of CEOs. Moreover, 70% of employees think greater empathy results in lower staff turnover, compared to just 40% of CEOs.
In their Empathy Manifesto, Hansard and Mathieson have called for a cultural shift around empathy and referred to how Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, had put empathy at the core of innovation to understand the different needs of customers and appreciate different perspectives. Microsoft has shifted from a ‘know it all’ culture to ‘learn it all’ as a result.
As a framework, Hansard and Mathieson outlined their Empathy Compass which has empathy at the centre, surrounded by self, team, organisation and customer. They said empathy for yourself is your “North Star”. By understanding how you are feeling, you can be more empathetic to others and more resilient. They emphasised the importance of finding time for yourself amid family and work demands.
In a team setting, empathy involves listening to others and being prepared to act on what they say, being honest rather than hiding bad news and taking the group with you. It can involve ensuring people take time out regularly to care for others in the team, testing things out and listening to feedback.
When it comes to customers, empathy is about listening to their needs and adjusting products or services accordingly, whether they are internal or external clients. It is an opportunity to show you care and value customers and it drives loyalty.
There are two dimensions to organisational empathy – top down empathy demonstrated by senior managers and bottom up empathy that builds from the sum of other acts of empathy – teams, customers and self.
Hansard and Mathieson discussed how to attract and hire empathetic candidates and said it is about having the right behavioural frameworks and asking candidates at interview about what they think empathy is and requesting that they give examples of how they have demonstrated this. Also, they can be asked about their personal values and the employer can assess the cultural fit against their organisational values, if they have been clearly defined.
Participants then discussed examples of empathetic leadership in their own organisations, including weekly videos from CEOs about the need for everyone to take care of themselves; leaders who are mental health first aiders; role models and influencers who generate empathy; leader drop-in sessions; leaders who give people permission to take time out; a focus on domestic abuse; employee audits that ensure employers know about the different problems affecting different groups; treating employees like consumers; and a focus on adaptability to change and on how an empathetic culture supports this.
Mathieson said it is important to be aware that different cultural contexts need to be taken into account and that a different empathetic approach may be needed for different stages of the pandemic. Hansard said listening needs to become an organisational habit as does demonstrating that what is being said is being taken on board. Mathieson said employers need to listen more than they talk.
In the second workshop, participants explored empathetic listening or what one participant called “listening hard”. They focused on the reciprocal empathetic relationship between employer and employee and the importance of creating an environment of trust where employees feel they can be open and honest and that what they say will be acted upon. There was also a discussion on how an empathetic culture could boost understanding of customer needs and help deliver better services. Better listening can sometimes be enough to push things forward in itself if people feel they are being heard.
Hansard said there are three types of empathy: cognitive empathy or empathy by thought – the ability to see another’s perspective; emotional empathy – the ability to feel another’s emotions; and generative empathy – which generates empathy in others and leads to action, if not by the listener then by others. Receiving and witnessing empathy has a profound impact and generates empathy for others.
They outlined their ACORN method of generative empathy which is based on:
Attention – listening with full attention and not imposing your own perspective;
Curiosity – exploring what the other person is thinking or feeling and checking that you have heard and understood correctly;
Observation – noticing all signals, including body language and emotions
Reflection – being a mirror and testing what people are saying, for instance, stating: ‘I think what you are saying is…’ This can be helpful even if you get it wrong as it might make the person think about the issue in a different way if done well; and
Next steps – working together to identify action for you and for them.
Participants then took part in an empathy breakout session to try the ACORN method for themselves, working in trios where one person shared a challenge or problem, one person listened to another and another observed.
Reflecting afterwards, some participants described the difficulty of letting go of the feeling that they needed to find a solution to people’s problems rather than just reflect them back and find a supportive way forward. Mathieson said intentional listening has to be practised regularly and developed “as a muscle”. This is particularly important for building resilient organisations, promoting inclusion and helping people to navigate agility and change.
Hansard and Mathieson have developed a six-month empathy training programme for leaders which shows significant boosts in leaders’ ability to listen and teams’ ability to behave empathetically as well as increased trust. The leaders who have taken part say it is transformative, helping teams feel more connected and able to be more honest and open.
If you would like to know more about the Empathy Manifesto and the work Hansard and Mathieson do, please contact them on email@example.com/ www.hansardcoaching.com and firstname.lastname@example.org/www.changeoasis.com.