Empathy is a buzzword used in different contexts to inspire people to be better human beings! How many times did you feel offended by someone’s actions or comments? Be honest with yourself. Did you allow someone’s words or actions to dictate how you felt? Did you judge them and wished they would vanish from the surface of the earth? Well, I hope not! Many people do take things personal in the workplace. And in all areas of their life for that matter.
Taking things personally in the current remote working environment can feel even more painful and become a breeding ground for conflict and miscommunication. It can feel challenging to clear things out face to face when you are using online collaboration tools.
Think of it this way: when you are driving on the highway, and someone feels you are driving too slow for their taste and they try to pass you by on your RIGHT SIDE!
Oh, dear Lord, the audacity! You may start cursing in Italian like me, with your blood boiling in your veins. If that same person was standing in line behind you in the supermarket, they might still believe you are moving too slow for their taste, but the chances of them cutting the line are less likely. Simply because you are in their space and they can see and touch. They are reminded that you are a real human being, and there are still some codes of conduct that are unwritten but which underpin humanity.
Collaborating online in these uncertain times of a pandemic may make feeling empathy quite the challenge! Let’s start with the EQ-i 2.0 Model’s definition of empathy:
“Empathy is your ability and willingness to take notice of and be sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings. Attributes such as caring & sensitivity, personal attention, sympathy (responsiveness), relational curiosity & seeking to understand are all part of valuing empathy in your team and organization”.
Digital empathy would be to implement these attributes while collaborating online. Here are my five insights on how you can lead your team remotely and online!
Check in on yourself first
To make a long neuro-scientific story short, our brain perceives information first through our limbic system. The area in our brilliant minds that is regulating our emotions. You know those feelings that make you a human being! Even online. Before you speak or convey your desires & expectations to someone else, tune inwards. How do I feel, and how will this come across? Trust me; when you practice this, then you will burn fewer bridges. I speak from experience. People can sense your vibes when you communicate with them. So if you feel anxious, insecure, or angry, it will give them a perception of someone who is emotionally unstable. The most outstanding leaders are not afraid to be vulnerable, but those who master their emotions and show a higher level of maturity are the role models the world needs more of right now.
Set an intention
Energy flows where attention goes. This is quantum physics. So if you start a meeting or a conversation with someone in your team, and you have no idea what your intentions are, chances are the outcome will be disappointing for both of you. Before any of my client meetings or workshops, I take five minutes and set an intention. Examples of questions I ask myself are:
What is it that I want to achieve?
What is it that I want to convey?
What does a successful meeting or workshop look like?
When you are clear in your mind about your answers, the risk of derailing your conversations, meeting agenda, goals and objectives is diminished. Because you will be able to re-focus on your intention that you set out in the beginning.
I get it; we are all stressed. It is the end of the year. The pressure is on at a time of a global pandemic. So treating each other as numbers instead of humans may feel more comfortable to many. This will have the opposite effect on your team, and let me provide you the example of the world renowned scientist Dr. Bruce Lipton.
When you are about to be chased by a Tiger, you will use all of your energy to run as fast as you can. Your body sets gear into its survival mode. Until the Tiger stops chasing you, or you hide, or you give up! Imagine, the Tiger represents fear. If you lead your team based on fear, their response options and quality of work will diminish. They cannot tap into their full potential because chronic feelings of stress drain most of their mental energy of fear and anxiety.
So instead, build rapport and incentivize positive behavior. Connect with people beyond the professional mask, the statistics on presentations, and their achievements on their CV.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Theodore Roosevelt
Acknowledge and Decide
This may seem quite formal and sound like a dichotomy to empathy, but hear me out. Simon Sinek, a New York Times Best-Selling Author and a global expert in leadership, explained it quite powerfully. He took Nelson Mandela as an example. Mandela was inspired by the way his father led tribal meetings. His father was always the last to speak. He listened to understand all of the tribal members before he spoke and decided on the way ahead. Simon refers to this as one of the essential qualities of leadership. So next time, when you are leading a team meeting, practice listening to understand. Replace your impulse to judge with curiosity and having an open mind instead. Ask questions for clarification, not to confirm your assumptions or biases. After everyone feels acknowledged and heard, then you can decide on the course of action. You will see that even if your team is not on the same page as you, they will respect and follow your decision because you made the EFFORT to INCLUDE and LISTEN to their needs and wants.
Leading with empathy in online remote work is more challenging, but it does not have to be less human. Simply remember that you are working with people who are trying to do their best with what they got and with what they know at the end of the day. Practice empathy and unlock their higher and hidden potential, which will ultimately lead to your team’s sustainable success and that of your organization.