It’s easy to become so focused on your own perspective that you forget that other people exist and you become a benevolent Tyrannosaurus walking around telling people what they should think and do. This approach works really well if you have a workplace where only you work there but is less effective if anyone else is involved. A lot of the interpersonal issues that arise in the workplace are due to leadership that doesn’t understand that people perform better when they’re listened to, valued and understood; treated with empathy.
In workplace relationships, walking in someone else’s shoes can help you practice empathy towards others and understand them better. Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s experience and point of view and it’s useful in the workplace because it allows for deeper interactions and connecting with people on a meaningful level.
In various leadership workshops, participants ask me why their employees or c0-workers behave a certain ways and what they can do about it. This is a great opportunity to introduce the idea that they can put themselves in that person’s shoes and learn about them without projecting their own needs and ideas on them. Try a few of the following things to increase your empathic ability:
- Listen actively without talking.
- Put yourself in that person’s situation and imagine you’re going through the same thing.
- Ask questions that allow the person to tell you more about himself or herself instead of yes and no questions.
- Keep in mind that what you’re hearing isn’t about you; it’s about them.
- Try to accept anything the person says as simply their reality rather than something you have to react to.
Try these ideas over a period of time. Empathy is about really understanding that there are other valid points of view in the world. Those perspectives may not be yours but they mean as much to the other person as your worldview does to you.
Once you’re able to connect with someone else’s reality, you’re on your way to genuinely understanding other people and showing them that you respect their point of view and experience. The result will be that you’ll connect with people more easily and work with them more effectively. Imagine a workplace where you actually understand why people do the things they do. What will you do to practice empathy in your workplace?