In my reflections on 2016, I included the insight that “there is always more context”. At the heart of this insight is a need for greater empathy. In 2017, I want to do more to foster empathy through my work. Greater empathy is transformational in an organisation’s culture and effectiveness. It is also a big step to making work more human.
After years of making work more mechanistic and more clinical, we are starting to see the return of the practice of empathy. Better service experiences, more effective leadership, and realising the potential of people all require greater empathy than traditional management practiceEmpathy is deeply embedded in the social nature of humanity.
Empathy is deeply embedded in the social nature of humanity. Our brains have mirror neurons to help us to react to emotions expressed by others and experience them. We need to use them more. Empathy is a key contributor to human social connection and a foundation for generosity. As organisations start to see the alignment of more human ways of working fostering to their strategic goals, efforts to return empathy to our organisations will continue to rise.
Practices of Empathy
Reflect: Until our minds are calm enough to reflect on and make sense of our own experience we will struggle to be empathetic to others. We need to put aside the time for reflection and for consideration of others.
Humility: The more wrapped up we are in ourselves and our importance the lesson able we are to be empathetic to others. A little humility helps our empathy. Working out loud can help expose the less perfect and more humbling side to others.
Be Purposeful: Purpose is the effect we have on others. Purpose pushes out into the world to understand others and the effects we have from their perspective. Challenging ourselves to be more purposeful will makes us more empathetic and more effective.
Listen: We don’t listen enough to others. We listen to confirm our perspectives. We are too quick to share our own. We need to listen longer, more actively and more deeply to truly understand.
Design: Empathy is the first step of a design thinking approach. Until a designer or design team understands the user’s needs and challenges from their perspective then they cannot generate the insights or develop an effective solution. Prototyping and experimentation reinforce the lesson that it is the experience of others, not our egos that determine success.
Collaborate: As we connect, share, solve and innovate together we are drawn out of our shell. Our understanding of others, their contexts, and their concerns increases. Shared work reminds us of the value and the need for empathy.
Give: People in our organisations were never as mechanistic or as self-interested as management theory wished. We always have had human generosity in the wirearchy to make the hierarchy work. The practice of generosity develops understanding, trust, and community.