How Empathy Can Fix Communication Issues
During a quarterly review, Sarah had asked Ben his status on a goal he had set at the beginning of the year. Ben reacted in defense and justified his underachieving status. Ben’s reaction confused and upset Sarah by his level of disrespect.
Sarah was doing her job by holding Ben accountable. However, Ben interpreted the question as micromanaging. Ben felt overworked the last three weeks and didn’t believe Sarah respected or understood his workload. The misunderstanding by both parties led to a communication issue and manager/employee conflict for weeks to follow.
(The story is fictitious in nature and does not represent anyone or organization specifically.)
Employees blindside supervisors and managers regularly by their emotional reactions, some are subtle while others are obvious. Sarah and Ben’s interaction is an example of a typical conversation between manager and employee. Just as you don’t know the full backstory to why Ben reacted the way he did, Sarah didn’t know why he reacted the way he did. The misunderstanding caused both parties to feel irritated and frustrated.
Could the misunderstanding have been prevented? Yes!
Could there have been a different outcome? Yes!
Communication Starts With Empathy
Empathy is easily misunderstood. While empathy does mean feeling what someone else is feeling, it does not mean the expression to the feeling has to be identical.
The key to communication starts with empathy—being able to understand the feelings of someone else. This sense of understanding will allow the two parties to start their communication on the same level. For example, if Sarah would have understood that Ben had felt overworked, this might have prevented a feud from developing. Sarah could have defused the feud easily by preceding one phrase to her question.
For example, this beginning phrase could have defused the feud entirely, “Ben, I know that you have been carrying a heavy load recently, but I was wondering how your goal is progressing.”
This one short phrase before the question displays empathy and eliminates the possible reaction. This powerful tactic can help the receiving party in communication feel understood and even appreciated. Yes, this is a small tweak in communication, but has the potential to powerfully eliminating potential feuds.
Other Ways Empathy Can Fix Communication Issues
Here are some other tactics to increase your empathy in communication:
- Understand Personalities. Everyone has different motivation and behavioral styles. The better you understand how someone thinks, acts, and feels naturally, the better you can understand or even predict responses from people. People analytics is a great asset in today’s workforce to understanding personalities. Analytics can be a cheat sheet to empathy for managers. The more you know about employee’s style of communication, the easier it is to understand them.
- Know Your Culture. Your work environment could be the greatest insight to understanding people. The impact culture has on people is significant. If a big project deadline is stressing out your workplace, you might need to ease the pressure while communicating. If there is a fear among employees because of recent layoffs, recognize that people are fighting to keep their jobs and probably are a little self-conscious about their work.
- Recognize Relationships. Work relationships can tell you all you need to know about person. The condition of relationships weigh heavy on people and will greatly influence their overall condition. If you are communicating with someone that loves their work relationships, you won’t have to be as cautious as you would with someone struggling with work relationships. Employees thriving in their relationships tend to be more open to challenges and opportunities to grow as well.
Sum Up Empathy With Communication
You must have a good pulse on your employees, culture, and relationships. These are all important aspects to empathetic communication. While most managers and supervisors want their employees to possess better skills in communication, you can’t help people change overnight. The quickest way to defuse communication issues is through increasing your own empathy.
Lastly, I strongly urge everyone I work with to use people analytics. If you do not have anything right now, do yourself a service by getting something. Of course I would love to help you, but even if you go elsewhere, get something. It’s too powerful to pass up when trying to improve communication among your workplace and staff.