Empathy at Work, and Why is it Important
R elationship is the essence of almost anything we do. The kind of bond we share with others forms the basis of our conduct with them, helping us build connections and share experiences. In the course of our careers, we develop unique relationships with several people from different walks of life. Some turn out to be mutually rewarding; others don’t. Think of the joy you feel and share with some of your colleagues when you achieve something, and the motivation you look for when things don’t go that well. The intangible ability to understand and take a genuine interest in another’s feelings and emotions is “empathy”. Most organisations nowadays look for this ability in their leaders; they want the management to be able to combine emotional intelligence with logical reasoning when taking key decisions. So, one might ask – is empathy innate, or can it be taught as a management skill? Well, everyone has emotions; some can harness and display them, while others are not as successful. For those of who struggle with displaying empathy, the following discussion may help.
Empathy is highly misunderstood and is often confused with “sympathy”; however, there is a stark difference between the two terms. Being empathic means being able to relate to the feelings of another person and our own awareness about her/him. This doesn’t imply that we agree with their feelings; instead, it simply means that we acknowledge and appreciate what that person is going through. Seemingly, it sounds somewhat patronising, but a simple gesture of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes helps in deriving positive outcomes. When a leader takes out time to understand the needs of the employees and is non-judgemental towards them, s/he creates an environment of trust within the organisation, which increases productivity, brings in a constructive mindset to change, and a willingness to deliver beyond what is expected. An environment of trust goes a long way in building a synergic team spirit and a positive organisational culture in general.
You may ask, if a leader spends most of her/his time understanding the diverse nature of all the employees, when does s/he work? How can the leader be “Efficient” if s/he is mostly “Empathetic”?
The answer is relatively simple. Leadership involves relationships; a leader may be someone overseeing a small team, a mid-level manager of a large company or a founder of a transnational corporation. Most leaders have interacted with a large number of people, sometimes on a daily basis, to build a rapport and work towards a common cause. This has helped sensitise them to different temperaments and different approaches to work. To lead efficiently, that awareness is integral.
Empathy is a core building block for efficiency and effectiveness at work. Feeling reassured by the immediate manager creates a sense of responsibility and mutual trust, reflecting greatly in the efforts put in by employees that ultimately contribute to the success of a leader in terms of her/his efficiency. Research has shown a positive co-relation between empathy and performance at the workplace. Studies have even proven that leaders with empathetic behaviour encourage employees towards performing exceptionally, are instrumental in controlling attrition rate, and instil organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB) among subordinates.
In the executive search industry, empathy is a highly valued attribute. People are willing to join an organisation simply because of an empathetic superior. Quoting a real-life instance, there was once a senior level position I worked on. During its course, I approached individuals for discussing the role, company profile and job expectations. I initially received a great response, with all potential candidates seeming gung-ho to take it up; however, upon discovering ‘who’ they would be reporting into and considering the market reputation of the person in terms of his conduct with employees, the interested persons withdrew their candidature for real. Evidently, the importance of empathy as a leadership trait cannot be undermined! People look forward to serving a company if they know they are reporting into someone who is empathetic. And this is not just limited to the top management; it’s a trait that permeates all levels of the organisational hierarchy.
In conclusion, as industry experts, we believe the hospitality industry in India is going through a major transformation, and the growth leaders of tomorrow will need to create an environment of positive collaboration with their employees. Listening without prejudice, being genuine in your concern, and communicating effectively will shape employer-employee relationships, going forward, and those who can harness this ability will be able to able to successfully push their organisations forward.
For more information, please contact Aaina Arora on [email protected]