In any organization, cultivating high-quality interactions can improve productivity, speed, and innovation.1 Here’s a handful of ways to work toward a healthy, inclusive workplace full of potential.
The premise for empathy has to be equal humanity.
– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The difference between being excited to start your workday or dreading it often comes down to one thing: whether compassion and empathy are part of your workplace culture.
We often forget we are ALL human and there is immeasurable value and drama in each human life. When we show up for work, some of us have learned to downplay our differences, our own successes or grievances, our personalities, and appropriate a narrower, more generic version of ourselves to conform to an “appropriate” work ethic or worldview.
This diminishes and gives short shrift to the rich diversity of the human spirit and experience—and also to the latent potential that could be unleashed by exploring our differences and designing business and objectives around inclusiveness and a broadened perspective.
The Power of Workplace Empathy
Despite being established in the 1960s, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) is finally becoming a core business objective for how company cultures view and treat employees.
The most obvious, the MeToo and BLM movements, have catapulted the discrepancies and discrimination felt by too many in the workforce—and ignored by leadership for too long—into full view. These are eye-opening and obvious examples of discrimination and a lack of understanding, compassion, and empathy that, if addressed, would enable easier, more collaborative, healthy, willing, and happy partnerships.
But workplace discrepancies and discrimination occur on more subtle levels that we cannot simply “see.”
Consider the variety of people in your workplace. All our perspectives are different! We all came to this point in time along a completely different path. And yet, how much do we know or care about the experiences of others? Instead of downplaying these experiences, what would happen if we explored them?
Knowing you’ll be heard, would your desire to show up be stronger? Would your work stress decrease? Would your self-worth improve?
According to the Center for Creative Leadership, empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance.2
Empathy refers to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in another’s situation and experience the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person. Empathy results in high-quality, focused emotional interactions that can improve productivity, speed, and innovation in addition to well-being and motivation.3
How to Enhance Understanding and Harmony in the Workplace
At XPLANE, we employ several exercises for workshops targeted at diving levels deeper into understanding one another and working together more harmoniously.
We pull siloed and disparate roles and groups together and perform actual “listening tours”—a process of gathering interpretations, perceptions, and assessments from stakeholders to deepen understanding.
We then help clients co-create solutions to achieve goals by considering and synthesizing these multiple voices and input.
The Empathy Map: Unlock Unique Challenges and Perspectives
One of the ways we gather information is with worksheets. An Empathy Map helps our clients step into colleagues’ and/or customers’ minds, so to speak, in order to understand their challenges and personal perspective better.
Imagine you are trying to relate to a customer or a person in a particular role within your company. The empathy map prompts you to reflect on questions such as:
- What do they hear?
- What do they think and feel?
- What do they see?
- What do they say?
- What do they do?
The answers to these questions can be very insightful, resulting in “aha” moments. Think of it like this: If I am approaching a building from the south and you are approaching it from the north, the goal (the building) is the same, but the view, the steps, the timing, and the obstacles to reach the building will be very different.
What are the gaps in understanding between you? What are the obstacles you face? What do both of you relate to? By sharing our experiences, we can create solutions that make the journey smoother and more comfortable and enjoyable for us both.
The Employee Experience Map: Explore Diverse Workplace Experiences
If your goal is a culture where empathy is embraced and encouraged, one where people can bring and are comfortable being their whole selves, you might also want to build off the empathy map by using the Employee Experience Journey Map. This worksheet helps companies hone in on their workplace environment.
The employee experience journey map can shed light on each employee’s work experience within a company and identify what’s working well and what’s not. Leadership can then review the data and identify common themes and areas for improvement.
Change requires much soul-searching and self-reflection—for companies as well as individuals. Cultivating empathy is just one step to broadening compassion and understanding. Incorporating some of these tools to help identify similarities, differences, and outliers can help guide the transition.
Games to Jump-Start Personal Interaction and Culture Transformation
Once you’ve gotten past the messy misunderstandings, you can use games as a fun way to begin interacting with one another. Here are some you might start with:
These resources might be helpful as well:
- Make Culture & Employee Engagement Your Strategic Advantage
- Tips to Get Started on Your Company’s Culture Transformation
Keys to a Healthy, Inclusive Future
To create a healthy, inclusive future, set aside your assumptions, make it a goal to recognize your own unconscious biases, and strive to cultivate warmheartedness.
Think about all situations first from an equity lens, instead of from a personal one. It’s a shift, but it doesn’t need to be a difficult one—and the results will likely be game-changing.
1 Key findings from 2021’s Women in the Workplace report (leanin.org).
2 William A. Gentry, Todd J. Weber, and Golnaz Sadri. “Empathy in the Workplace: A Tool for Effective Leadership.” Center for Creative Leadership. 2016. empathyintheworkplace.pdf (cclinnovation.org)
3 Center for Creative Leadership. “The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace.” June 28, 2022. The Importance of Empathy in the Workplace | CCL