9 Ways to Facilitate a More Enjoyable Office Environment
The weekly team meeting begins and you know just how it’ll end. Same as always – people interrupting each other, no progress made, and everyone feeling frustrated or hurt. You can’t pinpoint exactly what is going wrong, why this is happening, or how to change the course of events. And the uncomfortable cycle repeats itself like clockwork.
Cultivating empathy in the workplace is challenging. When practiced often, it can result in more productive meetings and generate a more enjoyable work environment. Here are nine ways to help you hone your empathetic practices:
We each have an inner voice that is especially skilled at put-downs: “Why did you just do that? Don’t say that idea out loud, people will think it’s stupid.” If we let that side of our inner voice dominate our thoughts, our peers will never know the best version of ourselves.
Internally console yourself with words of comfort – just as you might with a close friend who is putting herself down. In moments of stress or fear, remember to pause and take a deep breath before thoughtfully responding to prevent saying words or doing actions you might later regret.
Assume Best Intent
During encounters with colleagues that make your blood boil, it’s common to feel frustrated and think they are intentionally saying or doing something to negatively impact you. Most often, this is not the case. People are sometimes unaware of how their words or actions are perceived.
Assume best intent – that they do not intend to make you feel bad. Instead, ask yourself: “Why might they be saying/doing that thing in that particular way?” This allows you to view the situation from a different perspective – prompting you to flex your empathetic muscles.
If your colleague says something that makes you feel bad, it’s important to let him or her know, in spite of your fear of how he or she may or may not react. Push past it. Assume best intent, and give immediate feedback framed using the “intent vs. impact” framework.
Example: “I’m sure it wasn’t your intent to be condescending when you said/did xxx, but the impact of your words/actions made me feel xxx.” Framing feedback in this way communicates you’re assuming best intent and invites the other person to acknowledge the impact of his or her words or actions – resulting in an empathetic moment.
Typically, people are grateful for the feedback (and you’ll instantly feel better for getting it off your chest). You may also find that working relationships become more honest and collaborative – resulting in seamless alignment.
When you notice individuals acting differently as a result of the feedback you’ve given, offer kudos for their effort. Genuinely expressed words of affirmation go a long way in cultivating empathy.
Nothing is more counterproductive than making assumptions about what individuals are thinking or why they are doing things a certain way. Ask more open-ended questions (those that yield more than “yes/no” responses). By doing so, you’ll receive information to form a deeper understanding of your peers’ perspectives.
Instead of stating your own opinion in moments of disagreement, ask: “Why do you think that?” This likely elicits more information and ensures that your colleagues feel heard – a key component to fostering empathy.
Practice Active Listening
People process information as they speak, which sometimes results in poor articulation of what they actually intend to say – especially if they are feeling emotionally triggered. When you see people getting flustered as they express their thoughts, try calmly repeating back to them what you heard, and clarify if that’s what they meant.
If that seems to add fuel to the fire, try acknowledging how you imagine they feel by stating: “You seem (annoyed, frustrated, sad, etc.), and I want to understand where you’re coming from.” Don’t worry whether or not your guess is correct. By naming an emotion, the other person will be compelled to reflect on his or her emotional state and will either confirm your assessment or say “No, I’m not feeling ‘x,’ I’m feeling ‘y.’”
Ask why and give him or her space to respond (try your best not to interrupt). If the individual needs time to cool off, suggest a 10-minute break. In this way, you’ll de-escalate emotionally charged conversations and propel work forward.
Don’t Shy Away from Conflict
We each have unique perspectives, which naturally results in sometimes uncomfortable moments of conflict. When they occur, first reflect on your own feelings and approach them with curiosity.
What exactly makes you feel uncomfortable? Is it how someone articulated his or her thoughts or what he or she said? How exactly does it make you feel? Why?
Internally name the emotion you’re experiencing in order to refocus on the content of the conversation, enabling yourself to respond appropriately.
Put Your Ego Aside
You unveil a unique idea to your superior, and she doesn’t like it. It’s true: Colleagues may not like all of your ideas. Try not to take it personally, because your ideas are not a reflection of who you are, but rather of what you think.
Take a breath, be compassionate with yourself, and invite her feedback, asking clarifying questions like: “What specifically do you not like?” “What would you change and why?”
By putting your ego aside and responding with curiosity, you open the door to finding solutions. Your openness to feedback will be appreciated, which builds trust – another key component of empathy.
Bonus: you’ll learn at a faster pace, perhaps leading to that promotion you’ve been working so hard for (something that will definitely feed your ego!).
Apologize Promptly When Merited
There may be times when you say things you regret. As hard as it may be, it’s best to apologize to the individual(s) as soon as possible.
Facilitating a conversation to take full ownership of an unintended comment or action allows for healing between you and the other person. It also models new behavior – inspiring others to do likewise. After voicing an apology, you may learn your interpretation of the incident wasn’t at all what your colleague experienced, and you can laugh about it. Either way, clearing the air allows everyone to proceed with a greater sense of unity.
To cultivate empathy in the workplace, we must first make an effort to be more empathetic ourselves. Change in workplace culture takes time, effort, and patience. Perfection is not the goal. We cannot control the reactions of those around us, but we can enhance our own approach with hopes of positively influencing our peers and environment.12