Friday, January 14, 2011

Empathy: Engine of Change

During recent confirmation hearings for an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, "empathy" was put in a negative light. After the recent shootings in Tucson, some of its lustre has been restored. Is there a place for empathy in your workplace? The answer is "yes," especially when you are trying to change the culture and the ways things are done.

Empathy means identifying with the feelings of another person and being able to put yourself emotionally in that person's place. What does it mean to have empathy as a change agent? First, it means understanding that most people are resistant to change and the uncertainty it creates. Change is scary to them, and they will fight it.

As a change agent, you get excited by the challenge and opportunities presented by turning an organization around. If you want to bring people with you, you have to recognize and respect their concerns, feel their anxiety. You must then find ways to address these concerns constructively. A comprehensive communications program can be very powerful in this way. The CEO of a company undergoing major changes in a financial crisis sent an email to the entire staff every Friday afternoon. He reported on developments - positive and negative - during the past week and plans for the coming week. His empathy, signalled through his exceptional communications skills, was a crucial factor in the successful turnaround.

1 comment:

  1. I agree empathy has an important role in the world, and have written extensively about it since '06. Here is the original piece: