Have you experienced times when you felt you did your very best, did a great job, and yet you hear only criticism? How about feeling completely misunderstood or unappreciated when your accomplishments seem to be in plain sight? Are you getting your needs for rest, harmony, respect, consideration, appreciation, and recognition met at work?
Do you look forward to getting to work every morning or do you groan at the alarm clock and say something to yourself like, "Have to go to work now"?
Many of us spend a significant portion of our lives in a toxic office environment, working toward building a sustainable enterprise and hoping to grow personally along the way.
That said, I'll hazard to say that most people care about the company they work for.
Most of us recognize the value in being friendly, flexible, and accommodating, especially if that attitude comes from a genuine place of acceptance of our co-workers. Sometimes we may even hold back full truth in favor of protecting feelings or keeping the relationship friendly. Or maybe we fear losing status, position, or our job. See the parallels with personal relationships?
When we don't have the tools for communicating with compassion and efficiency, we might hold back, and pay the price in these potential ways:
- Potentially vital information is not shared.
- Decrease in how well we know each other's preferences.
- Increase in resentment.
- Decrease in respect.
Let’s look at the following example:
We have noticed and felt concern over some behaviors in the weekly strategic planning meetings. Mary, the COO, facilitates them. When high priority action items get side tracked by items we consider to be superfluous, we feel frustrated because we want more efficiency. We want to tell Mary, the COO, that we can see more efficient ways to run a these meetings but we hesitate.
The last time we tried, Mary reacted defensively and shut down the conversation. We also lost "points" with Mary. We might feel resentful and assume she is not comfortable with change or constructive criticism.
No, so let's take control of our own thoughts and emotions. We can begin by putting ourselves in Mary's shoes. For expediency, assume we know the following:
She has many responsibilities and daily challenges. She is actually concerned herself about the weekly strategic planning meetings and feeling a bit overwhelmed. The CEO (Richard) has been breathing down her neck to allow his cousin, Jimmy, to have a voice. Mary has grown to abhor the meetings she used to enjoy. It takes all of her willpower to keep cool whenever Jimmy speaks. She can tell it is affecting the project managers but feels like she has limited options.
The point here is that everyone has a story and values/needs they are attempting to serve by the actions we see them taking. Let's call this "strategies to meet needs/values." If we take the time to hear and understand their story, to empathize, we can dissolve the "us vs. them" perspective that is keeping us from approaching Mary from a more empathetic angle or, at the very least, dropping the weight of our self-destructive thoughts and feelings about her.
Let's take on the role of a Project Manager named Jane. Jane could say something like the following to Mary:
Jane: "Hey Mary. Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a shift in the weekly strategic planning meetings. I am curious how it has been for you?"
Mary: "Me too. It's not an easy topic." [Mary is feeling a bit guarded because of office politics.]
Jane: "I hear that! Are you feeling overwhelmed, wanting solutions, but also needing to trust that our conversation can be kept between us?" [Here Jane took a few stabs in the dark to guess quite a bit about Mary's state, including a need for privacy and security.]
Jane: "Deal. You are safe with me. What's it like to be in your role, with expectations and pressure coming at you from all sides?"
Mary: "It's hard, Jane. Richard's eyes glaze over any time I bring up my issues with Jimmy."
Jane: "Are you noticing how Jimmy's input slows the meetings down, wanting to somehow fix that, but worried how Richard will react?"
Notice how Jane is listening for feelings, needs/values, and wants? She is building a trusting connection with Mary so they can more efficiently brainstorm together on a solution. Also, notice how Jane is not rushing to offer advice or reassurance? More on that in other articles.
Let's stick with the office environment but shift to a slightly different kind of situation where we will apply the same tool.
Imagine the space in time between what you perceive someone tells you they are not happy with something you did or didn't do and your reaction (defense, offense, apology, retreat).
With some exercise, you can increase the amount of internal processing you can get done within that same time period so that you can reply from a position of greater strength.
Imagine feeling as if you have plenty of time once you experience something, to ask yourself, "How does being defensive in this situation serve me?" Sometimes you may wish to choose to hold on to and display rightous anger and sometimes not.
With the practice I will mention below, you will decrease the chances of even feeling anger in the first place! But the point here is that you have choice. You are not a slave to your emotions. With practice: You have the time to dispassionately examine the moment and choose which reaction will best serve you.
Boss: "You were late with the report, flake."
Response - Defensive: "I'm not a flake! You overwork me!"
Alternative Response - Empathetic: "I'm guessing you want to trust the reliability of my word and know that I understand how late delivery affects you?"
Boss: "I see the project is behind schedule."
Response - Defensive: "You didn't remind me, dictator."
Alternative Response - Empathetic: "I'm guessing integrity is important to you and this can impact how the client sees you? Would you like to talk about a solution?"
- We are guessing at values/needs, for better understanding of each other. This helps in dealing with not just the current situation, but all future interactions.
- We are practicing and showing the ability and desire to listen in a focused manner, showing curiosity and that we value how the situation affects the other person.
- We are taking responsibility for how our actions affect others and we are helping the other person take responsibility for their reaction.
- This is practicing empathy. Every time we pause to look at the situation from the other person's perspective and guess at their values/needs - "trust," "integrity," and "understanding" in this case - we are strengthening our ability to empathize and working toward this becoming automatic.
- Shift of attitudes to more positive.
- Shift of moods from apathetic to more empathetic.
- Fostering an atmosphere where more personal responsibility is encouraged, enjoyed, and accepted.
- Increased individual and company-wide efficiency.
- Smoother lateral and upward transitions within the company.
- Decreased employee turn-over.
Raised mostly by a mom whose strongest values were for connection, nurturing, compassion, generosity, and spontaneity. Lived a couple years with a dad who valued logic, reason, truth, and authenticity most. As a child, spent many years hitchhiking with mom across the USA, living wherever we could pitch a tent or wherever people would take us in. This is probably where the love for people, optimism, and adaptability comes from.
Spawned a daughter who is married and living in Texas.
Been writing software for web sites since 1995 and phones more recently. First computer was a Commodore Vic-20 followed by a Commodore 64. To this day, the image of that machine brings positive feelings.
Holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung Fu. Currently actively working toward second degree.
Have been studying and sharing NVC (an empathy tool) since 2005. Created a card game called Play To Evolve for the purpose of helping people practice giving and receiving empathy. https://www.clearsay.net/play-to-evolve.asp.
Have been leading a free weekly "Emotional Intelligence Play Group" in Austin, Texas since 2015. Currently a few months away from finishing my second book, called Practical Empathy.
More detailed bio here: https://ClearSay.net/bio.asp
For more information on training up your Emotional Intelligence, visit https://ClearSay.net. New, more modern version of site coming soon.