Welcome to the fifth episode of our Happier at Work video series! We have spent the last few weeks covering the idea of mindfulness, empathy, emotional intelligence, meditation and happiness in the workplace.
Our goal has been to find tools that you can practically apply to impact work happiness. Below is also provide a TL;DL (too long didn’t listen) so you can skip to critical parts of the videos if that’s more your scene. We encourage you to add your own personal techniques, ask questions and contribute to the conversation.
TL;DL: Here are the critical points in the video:
- What is ‘connect/succeed’? 0:25
- How can you create a collaborative work culture? 0:48
- ‘Just like me’ empathy & curiosity exercise 3:50
- The benefits of different perspectives + diversity: 5:05
Today we tackle a critical part of connection, happiness and success at work: empathy. It bridges nicely with last week’s discussion of self-compassion. We concluded that self-compassion for yourself = self-compassion for others, which is really another basic way of defining empathy.
However, let’s dig into this a bit further.
What is empathy?
Honestly, the best illustration I’ve ever seen to define empathy vs. sympathy is this one by Grammarly. Leave it to the grammar experts to help me connect and understand my emotions.
They define empathy as “A high degree of understanding of other people’s emotions.”
It’s important to note that an understanding of other’s emotions is self-awareness and mindfulness in action. You understand your own feelings may be similar, but not the exact same as the other. You are able to separate your own emotions, find common ground and “absorb what they are going through, and feel what they are feeling.” (Interaction Design Foundation, 2018).
Where does empathy come from and where does it fall short?
In her work (and you’ll hear this in the video), Gayle hypothesizes that our empathy has deep anthropological roots. Our empathy is closely tied to the notion of safety of our family, tribes, cities, countries as we’ve evolved as a society. We understand and want to take care of those that we share similar surroundings, environments and even DNA. It’s naturally easier for us to have empathy for those we perceive as similar—we feel we know what they’re going through.
Where we fall short is often in not recognizing that while we may have differences with others for all of those same reasons (surroundings, environments, DNA), we share so many other human traits: fear, love, need to succeed, survival, enjoyment, etc.
Gayle includes a practical empathy exercise in the video ~(3:50 mark), called ‘Just Like Me’. This can be a great way to prepare yourself for conversations in the workplace. Particularly with people you may find different, challenging or ‘not like you’.
Why is empathy important in the workplace?
How many of you have encountered a difficult or intimidating co-worker? Likely 100% of you. Have you found yourself avoiding that person, or even thinking ‘we’re just so different’? While that may be partially true, your lack of connection is holding back your ability to collaborate or even succeed with that person. Employing empathy and curiosity can help alleviate that ‘difference’ that you feel because you can find common ground.
As marketers, this becomes an essential skill not only for our clients, but their end customers. If we’re not practicing empathy, we’re likely using our own assumptions to guide decisions and thought processes. Essentially, we’re missing the good stuff that makes our work better and more effective. Rikke Dam and Ted Siang of the Interaction Design Foundation have a great comparison of empathy in marketing and product innovation: Google Glass vs. The Embrace Warmer.
On a day-to-day basis, we are just missing each other and what’s going on. An influx of empathy can even deepen great relationships.
How can I build my empathetic skills?
According to Max Planck and his work in The Journal of Neuroscience, the right supramarginal gyrus is the area of our brain responsible for empathy and compassion.
Hold up. Let’s take a minute to celebrate how awesome the name of that part of our brain is. It sounds like a superhero.
In their study they found that “When this brain region doesn’t function properly—or when we have to make particularly quick decisions—the researchers found one’s ability for empathy is dramatically reduced. This area of the brain helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people and is responsible for empathy and compassion.
Additionally, according to Christopher Berglund in Psychology Today, “Our brain’s neural circuitry is malleable and can be rewired through neuroplasticity one’s tendency for empathy and compassion is never fixed.”
Fantastic news! While we may struggle with empathy, we can train our brains to be better at it. This is where mindfulness and breathwork again enter the equation. Noting when we’re struggling with empathy, and giving ourselves the time to activate that part of our brain, means that we can be better at it every time we practice.
Here are some additional resources to help build your skills:
What has this meant for Room 214?
We covered it a bit when we talked about the importance of empathy for marketers, but it goes beyond that for us. We built a service around this in the form of our Strategic Insights team, and their work with customer insights and Jobs to be Done theory.
The basic premise is that “You don’t just buy a product. You hire a product to get a job done, to help you make progress towards something based on your circumstances.” Those reasons for hiring, and the journey to decide to hire are usually very emotionally-driven. We spend close to 16 hours interviewing customers and company stakeholders on the products and the company. Sometimes people cry, and every one usually feels like they’ve just left therapy. It’s awesome! (Author Note: I was recently the subject of a Jobs interview regarding alternative pastas and I swear I felt lighter and had no idea how emotional I felt about garbanzo bean pasta).
This thought-process has helped us take an empathy-based approach to our marketing strategies so that we’re always leading with the real insights that will connect and create greater success for our clients and their end customers.