Building Empathy in a Fractured World

Hybrid work. Talent shortages. Polarizing politics. Building a culture is tougher than ever. Recent research reveals the difference empathy can make. Leaders can create a more empathic, connected culture.

FROM PLATO TO Galton to modern psychology and neuroscience to the pop culture miracle of Star Trek, the received wisdom is clear: Empathy is beyond our control. If it is a trait, then there’s nothing we can do to become more empathic over time. And if it’s a reflex, there’s nothing we can do to change how much we feel for one another in the moment. This is all well and good when empathy comes naturally: for instance, among our family, friends, or tribe. But it’s bad news for modern times. It means that whenever we fail to empathize, we’ve hit the limits of our circuitry. We must simply stand by and watch as our world becomes more callous and disconnected. [The War For Kindness]

“When people feel connected to their colleagues and to their leaders, they work harder, faster, and more creatively.”

Emotional intelligence (EQ), which involves understanding and regulating one’s emotions, being aware of others’ perspectives, and managing relationships, is a vital life skill, a well-being expert says in Fast Company. People with high EQ aren’t always serene, but they are able to respond with empathy even when feeling negative emotions. Routinely asking yourself, “How am I feeling about this?” is one way to increase self-awareness and improve EQ. [Fast Company]

In recent years, organizations have realized that how managers communicate affects whether or not frontline employees feel cared about, explains a workplace expert cited in the New York Times. As a result, companies are focused on developing compassionate leaders. One US retail corporation has been holding regular leadership training sessions at its headquarters since July 2022. Store managers are taught that their success is tied to how they serve their employees, customers, and community. [NYT]

Decades of evidence show that empathy is a superpower in the workplace, Stanford University research psychologist Jamil Zaki comments in an episode of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast. Workers who think that their organizations and managers care about them report less burnout, better mental health and morale, and a greater intent to stay at their companies, says Zaki. They also tend to be more innovative and take more creative risks. Empathy isn’t a fixed trait: rather, it’s a skill that can be learned and improved upon with practice, says Zaki, author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. One large tech company, for instance, designed a curriculum for a management academy that focused on building trust and empathy. The managers’ customer satisfaction scores improved twice as fast as those of a placebo group. Learn how leaders can create a more empathic, connected work culture. [McKinsey]

Aggregated & shared by Irshad Salim, Karachi