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The Power of Empathy in the Workplace

We’ve all had those moments of pure attention, when it seems everyone in the room is attracted to your energy. Yet for many of us, that place is difficult to tap into. Your mind races with nervousness about something previously said and you worry about what to say next, each distraction lessening the power of your interaction.

The key to success in these moments is empathy. This ability to understand and relate to others is a powerful skill that takes work, but in mastering it, you can better both your personal and professional interactions.

Related: Use these five elements of psychology to improve your writing.

The Power of Empathy

Empathy is about establishing trust by outwardly recognizing what someone else is experiencing. It’s difficult for people to fully engage in any interaction if they don’t feel that they are being heard and understood.

Think about how free and open your interactions are with close friends and family. Your conversations are super productive because you have each freed yourself to fully engage.

However, at work or in our other day-to-day interactions, we are naturally cautious. We withhold information, we don’t ask the tough questions, and it’s much harder to make decisions or resolve issues. That generally leads to subpar outcomes.

Four Steps for Practicing Empathy

1. Observe: Pay attention to voice, tone, body language, and the situation.
2. Listen: What feelings and emotions are being conveyed?
3. Interpret: What needs are behind those feelings and emotions?
4. Share: Openly state what you think you understand about the other person and ask for feedback to make sure you’re right.

Straightforward, right? Not exactly.

Why Listening is Scientifically a Struggle

Being a good empathizer is largely connected with being a good listener.

Chris Voss, former FBI negotiator and author of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, explains that it’s a struggle to focus in attentive moments because listening is far from a passive activity. It is the most active thing you can do, and empathetic listening can power some of the most fundamental functions of your workplace.

If you struggle with listening, you are not alone. Renowned author and journalist Michael Pollan examined this difficulty in his recent book, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence.

Pollan found that a major area of the brain known as the default mode network (DMN), which acts as an overseer keeping brain operations in check, is most likely the very operator that makes active listening so difficult.

How the DMN Works

The DMN is what kicks in when you have nothing to do. And it seems to be responsible for the construction of what we call the self or ego. It’s all that noise that comes pouring in when you’re in idle; the flood of thoughts about the past and future and myriad distractions that we often feel powerless to overcome. It can become who we are. It also leads to rumination and self-referential thinking, which is not conducive to empathy.

The DMN is powerful, but you are not powerless to resist it. Attention, focus, and active listening help quiet the ego, allowing you more effective listening.

Try this: Consistent meditation, even just 10 minutes a day, has been shown to decrease activity in the DMN, which then leads to better empathy.

Practicing Empathy in the Workplace

Empathy in the workplace is something I encourage the team at D Custom to actively practice. Here are some of the things it can power.

Empathy and Negotiating

While Voss’ FBI negotiations might not be the first place your mind goes in wondering where and how empathy might be better understood and applied, it is paramount in their field. As he notes, when preparing for a negotiation, it’s more important to concentrate on demeanor and state of mind rather than what you will say or do. This is empathy in all its glory.

Empathy and Trust

Empathy establishes trust, and establishing trust enables more productive working relationships. By practicing empathy in the workplace, you will expose goals and concerns more readily. And you cannot resolve issues until that comes from both sides.

Implementing empathy to build trust starts with recognizing people’s fears and validating them without passing judgment or offering a solution. If you do that in a consistent way as a team member or leader, you will get all manner of engagement from your team.

Empathy and Creativity

Empathy is about a genuine connection, and active listening is a gateway to thoughtful collaboration. Ideas come to light in a creative environment, and an attentive approach helps increase input so much that possibilities expand in a way they would not have otherwise.

Empathy can be a force for powerful relationships. From persuading groups to negotiating with terrorists to growing a fruitful community of coworkers, empathy emerges as an imminent provider of success. It’s wired into our psychology to the point that we can’t resist it. So be present and empathy will follow. From that, the possibilities are boundless.

By Paul Buckley

Source: The Power of Empathy in the Workplace | D Custom

 

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Researchers turn to newlywed couples to unravel questions about the chemistry of empathy and bonding

Love can make us do crazy things. It often prompts us to behave in counterintuitive ways, like, for example, placing the wellbeing of our loved ones above our own. But why? Such has perplexed and intrigued scientists for centuries. A new study out of UC Santa Barbara explores how an individual’s genetics and brain activity correlate with altruistic behaviors directed toward romantic partners.

Source: Researchers turn to newlywed couples to unravel questions about the chemistry of empathy and bonding

The Challenge of Scaling Soft Skills – Lynda Gratton

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It is becoming increasingly clear that for most working people, a proportion of the working tasks they currently perform will be either completely replaced by machines (AI if the tasks are cognitive, robots if they are manual) or augmented by a human-machine interface.

While there is less clarity about the types of tasks that will remain within the human domain, we can make some predictions. We know that, right now and in the foreseeable future, machines are generally poor at understanding a person’s mood, at sensing the situation around them, and at developing trusting relationships. So as the World Economic Forum report on future skills argued, it is human “soft skills” that will become increasingly valuable — skills such as empathy, context sensing, collaboration, and creative thinking.

That means that millions of people across the world will have to make the transition toward becoming a great deal better versed in these soft skills. But that’s far from easy. The paradox is that while we understand a lot about how to develop the “hard skills” of analysis, decision-making, and analytical judgment, we know a great deal less about the genesis of soft skills.

Perhaps more important, much of the context of how people learn and perform is currently skewed toward hard skills. Understanding the obstacles to developing soft skills and then addressing them is crucial for our schools, our homes, and our workplaces.

Three Barriers to Developing Soft Skills

It seems to me that there are three major barriers to scaling the development of soft skills.

Schools are too much like factories. The basic foundations for most schooling systems were laid down after the Industrial Revolution. The aim by the early 1900s was clear: to take a population that was mainly engaged in craft or agricultural work and prepare it for work in factories — and, more recently, offices. Though some schools have moved the curriculum to soft skills and creativity, in many schools, these traditions hold firm. Children are trained to stay still for hours at a time (as they would on a factory production line), to engage in rote learning, and to be compliant and follow rules. The pity of this is that these skills are ones at which machines are highly competent. More important, these conditions do little to nurture in children the skills of compassion, inventiveness, and being able to interpret people correctly.

The home is saturated with technology. There is mounting evidence that technology use is affecting the development of human soft skills. When children and adults spend a significant amount of their time engaged with virtual online games and social media, for instance, there is some evidence that their face-to-face social skills begin to atrophy. Short volleys of social interaction do little to support social skills.

This is important, because the evolutionary benefits that humans have developed in empathy and collaboration need to be reinforced in subtle individual learning. Contrast, for example, a child’s conversations with the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant and with an actual adult. In interacting with Alexa, the child may be tempted to bark instructions and possibly be rude to the machine. Alexa simply replies back in a steady, dignified manner. If a child mimicked such an interaction with an adult, he or she would likely be reprimanded for rude behavior.

That is not to take away from the fact that technology could play a significantly beneficial role in the development of soft skills. Over the last decade, there have been major developments in technology-based learning, including online programs that tens of thousands of people can participate in.

The primary focus of the majority of these programs has been on helping people develop hard skills. These programs are very competent at teaching content, simulating decision-making, and testing for knowledge. But what these learning technologies have not yet cracked at scale is how to support the development of soft skills across thousands or millions of people. Those that do teach these skills tend to be small-scale initiatives that involve face time and mentoring.

 

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