There are times when our colleagues do or say things that we label as bothersome, disappointing, or even threatening to our interests. Based on their actions we make fast judgments about who they are – an obstacle, an inconvenience, or even an adversary. These conclusions serve as justification for us to take an aggressive tone, use demeaning language, or employ win-lose tactics with a colleague. When this happens you know you have lost empathy.

Empathy is the “E” in the TRUEteam model I’ve been writing about for the last few weeks. While the “T” — speaking Truthfully, the “R” – listening Receptively, and the “U” – Undaunted authenticity allow for direct, courageous, balanced, and open dialogue, empathy is essential to bringing compassion into a conversation. Empathy ensures that as you build a culture of candor on your team, honesty and directness are not used as weapons.

I define empathy as the capacity to understand and acknowledge others’ feelings and needs. Cultivating empathy on a team enables members to see one another, not as job descriptions or as vehicles to achieve business goals, but as whole people – who are sometimes struggling, who are inherently imperfect, and who are often misunderstood.

Showing empathy makes others’ feelings and needs as legitimate and important as our own. To encourage empathy pay attention to the presence of three qualities when you speak and listen:

1. Attuned: Do you actively recognize and acknowledge the emotions and needs within yourself and in other members of the team, assigning equal importance to each?

2. Generous: Do you act in the interest of other team members’ success and growth? Are you willing to loosen your grip on self-interest and assume good intentions in others?

3. Respectful: Do you extend dignity to team members – acknowledging their inherent worth as a human being, especially when you feel impatient or frustrated by their actions?

The world of work serves up all kinds of opportunities to practice empathy. In the moments when you notice your brow furrowing, your face frowning, your voice volume increasing, and your mind turning the person sitting across the table from you into a “problem to be fixed,” stop. Take a breath. Ask yourself: “If I were more attuned, respectful, and generous in this moment, who would I be right now?” Take another breath and adjust feelings or behaviors that are not empathic.

Photo Credit: Matus Laslofi