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Why empathy in the workplace is more significant than ever |

Empathy in the workplace is at new level of significance and necessity as we confront global difficulties that force us to live in a constant state of uncertainty. Emotional well-being in the workplace helps supports mental health and makes it a better place to be.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the significant factors necessary for the productivity, growth and success of an organisation and this is illustrated by the fact that research has indicated that 90% of top performers have above-average emotional intelligence, while EQ is responsible for 58% of job performance and 75% of the Fortune 500 companies use emotional intelligence training.

The uncertainty we live with every day also makes it easy for tempers to flare in the workplace and getting involved in heated arguments regularly is not good for you and your employer, as well as your team, but you can learn how to respond when you are challenged.

“Leaders must foster an environment and culture that allows team members to bring their best self to the table to excel, be challenged and feel like they have a purpose in their jobs. It is important for leaders to constantly remember that the way you lead, as well as the things you do and say, affect how others feel on the inside,” says Anja van Beek, Agile talent strategist, leadership and human resources expert and executive coach.

For instance, what do you say when a co-worker has missed a deadline three times in a row in the past week? Or what should you do if the team feels unmotivated because you decided to go back to the office full-time? How should you act when your colleagues wait for someone else to act rather than taking responsibility for improving a client’s situation?

On the other hand, how do you acknowledge the team’s modest gains and not just focus on the big stuff? This is where EQ comes in, Van Beek says.

“One of my favourite quotes is Viktor Frankl’s words: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’ This is sometimes easier said than done.”

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Van Beek gives these six tips to keep in mind when you react to a heated argument:

Reframe your thinking

“We often jump to a conclusion and easily take things personally. Reframe your thinking by considering what other possible reasons there may be for the person to act the way they are. A level of self-awareness is also hugely beneficial, such as ‘What is my role in this scenario? How did my behaviour affect the other person’s view – without being aware of it?’”

Take a pause

Van Beek says you must never underestimate the impact of taking a few deep breaths to slow down your heartbeat and evaluate what is happening, as well as what will be the best way to respond to the situation.

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Remain curious

Ask questions to truly understand the other person’s perspective, she advises. Ask questions such as: Help me understand why do you want to achieve XYZ? What is the real issue for you? If you choose X what are you saying no to?  

Be aware of the 4 F’s in the workplace

“When you are triggered, you are in fight, flight, freeze or fawn state due to a chemical reaction in your neocortex (the thriving, problem-solving part of the brain) that stops you from not functioning optimally. Instead of allowing an unconscious habit to drive your reaction, reactivate the neocortex and be mindful in choosing how you want to respond.”

Reactivate your neocortex by asking yourself a question, such as: What is the real issue for me? What might support a different explanation? What if this was someone else behaving in this way? What is my behaviour communicating? This could help you see what is really going on in the moment.

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Name the emotion

Van Beek says it help if you are able to name the emotion you experience and consider what the emotion is trying to tell you. Instead of being angry, perhaps you are disappointed with how your idea was not taken despite you being verbally told that your idea was the best?

Tactfully share what you experience

Remember, an experience is made up of four elements. What do you observe, think, feel and want?  “When sharing your experience, a good start is to start with the “I”. For example, when the project’s team leader did not schedule sufficient time on the agenda: say something such as ‘I noticed that this is the third time that we did not have enough time allocated to the brainstorming topic. I feel disappointed that my idea was not heard after the request to make the research a priority. How can we ensure we have sufficient time allocated to this agenda-point moving forward?’”



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