Do you remember the thrill of Valentine’s Day in elementary school? I loved decorating my classroom mailbox, cutting out construction paper hearts to create valentines for classmates, and waiting anxiously to see what kind of candy I’d receive at the class party.
The beauty of those classroom parties was that everyone was included. Regardless of if you were popular or if your lunchbox was less than cool, you were given something to celebrate you.
As an adult, you can bring back that joy by celebrating each of your colleagues in the workplace through empathy. Whether you’re showing empathy to your teammate, your manager, or a stranger in the elevator, it’s a way to connect – and what better time to practice than on the holiday of love?
While the idea of empathy is easy, putting it into practice can be more difficult. To best understand how to get into an empathic mindset, consider this example: You’re talking to your manager about a new project that is kicking off next week. At the beginning of the meeting, your manager mentions she didn’t sleep well last night and you notice she is using a short tone of voice, which is uncharacteristic behavior.
Below are four simple questions to help you think and act empathetically, in this and any other scenario:
- What do I know? Assess the facts of the situation. In this instance, you know your manager did not sleep well the previous night. You also know there is a new project kicking off soon.
- What is implied? Ask yourself what you can derive from the facts. It’s safe to assume your manager is tired and may be anxious about the new project.
- What can I imagine? This forces you to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask yourself, what can I understand about their current situation to better share those feelings? In this instance, you might imagine that your manager didn’t sleep well because her young child was up sick. So not only is your manager tired, but she is also concerned about her child’s health. You might imagine that on top of the new project kicking off next week, she has multiple other projects in progress, causing her to feel overwhelmed. The combination of these factors could result in a high stress level, which explains the short tone.
- How can I empathize? A key part of empathy is putting it into action, which can look different depending on the situation. However, there are a few universal behaviors that demonstrate empathy more than others. Businessolver's Workplace Empathy Monitor reveals that listening more than talking, being patient, and verbally acknowledging that you are listening are all behaviors associated with empathy. In this example, you can be patient and practice active listening to show your manager that you are committed to the upcoming project and want to make her job easier.
Empathy doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice and a conscious effort to use tools – like the exercise I described above – to make it an organic part of your daily behavior. I encourage you to celebrate this Valentine’s Day by practicing empathy – there is no better time to start!