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Balancing Empathy & Productivity

Updated: May 19, 2022

As a leader, I know you've given more over the last 18 months than you thought possible. I was speaking with one of my clients last week and they asked if they were doing the right thing by giving, and giving, because quite frankly they were exhausted.

I get it.

We've all heard the analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first before you should help someone else. Whilst being there continually for your team is gallant, if you're not looking after yourself, you're not going to be able to show up for them in the best way possible either.

You may also be experiencing empathy fatigue,

If empathy is not one of your strong skills (or perhaps you've used it all up), know that this skill can be strengthened.

One of the most enduring traits that help leaders to develop strong relationships with their team is empathy. This is the ability to understand others’ emotions, feelings, and perspectives, and still be able to help them to show up as their best selves.

The core of a successful and productive team is a leader who has good relationships with their team members.

An effective leader is one who is motivated to create a psychologically safe workplace and one who strives to enhance the quality of their relationship with the team. In the long run, this determines the effectiveness of the leader and the productivity of the team.

The more we pull that empathy lever, the more we increase productivity.

How does empathy work?

Empathy neutralises any negativity. This is good when we are in a toxic environment. When you are frustrated with a team member, you can have a difficult time seeing things in his or her point of view. This is why giving people a generous assumption is key to becoming a more empathetic leader.

However, when you give people a generous assumption, meaning you assume that they are trying to do their best, sometimes there is still a mismatch in output and behaviour of the team member. Here are two reasons that may cause that mismatch:

  • We may not have been clear with the instructions

  • We may not have been clear with our expectations.

  • Your staff need a well deserved, guilt-free break

When productivity starts to dip, is usually either a capability gap or a communication gap.

When seeing things in an empathetic perspective, you look at things from the point of view of the other person. This softens our own negative emotions and helps your team respond more positively as well. Sometimes we need to slow down to speed up.

The importance of empathy in your team

When we get in a cycle of seeing the negative, we start seeing every possible thing that can be a problem (thanks to our Reticular Activation System).

In an instant, from the outside, if we become more empathetic with the other person, we understand the other person better. Whenever you are irritated with another person, try seeing things from the other person’s point of view. That’s when the real empathy begins.

We know only what people tell us about their life, their situation, and what they are going through. We can’t assume to know everything that’s going on in the other person’s life. While it would be nice to separate work and personal life, we are only human and it can be difficult to separate them entirely. Being aware that people might have stuff going on beneath the surface is the first step to show and practice your empathy.

In the workPLACE, you never know the hidden emotions that burden your team. We never know what someone is going through because we only know what people allow us to know.

In today’s world, there a heightened level anxiety and stress. There’s also been a lot of change and disruption, especially in the last few months.

This is why, being able to create a psychologically safe workplace is so important for people to thrive and grow and ultimately enhance the team’s productivity.

Sometimes it is easy to criticise and judge. When we are in a position of leading a team or a business, people can have a hard time opening the dialogue if they feel threatened, or as though they're letting you of the team down in any way. This is why empathy is one of the most important traits to have as a leader.

If empathy is not one of your strong skills, know that this skill can be strengthened. It's like a muscle, it gets stronger the more often you flex it.

Until next time, Eat the Frog, Get the Worm, Be the Bird and give yourself some empathy too.


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