Empathy- Soft Skill Article #2

Empathy is a word that many people define incorrectly.  Simply, it means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  It is rarely listed first on a list of soft skills – but maybe it should be.

“The ability to temporarily take up residence in someone else’s perspective frees you from your own narrow thoughts and snap judgments. It neutralizes your hard feelings and imbues you with a softer approach to disputes and difficult employees”. (Forbes – Workplace Empathy Packs A Powerful Punch: Discover The Jaw-dropping Results, by Bryan Robinson, Ph.D.)

Some believe that the ability to be empathetic is a natural one.  You’re either born with it, or you’re not. This is not the case.  You can develop this ability by thinking things through differently.  For instance, someone you work with has suddenly (in your estimation) become hard to get along with.  They snap when they become frustrated and become emotional over what seem to you to be minor issues.  Before you started working on your empathy, what would you have done?  Maybe snap back; go to your boss about the behavior; begin to leave that person off your team?  No, you are increasing your empathy – so instead, you look back to when this behavior started and try to discover the cause.

What do you find? This co-worker has elderly parents who have just moved in with her, both are infirm, and she has suddenly become a caregiver.  Rather than go home after a stressful day and relax, she goes home to feed and bathe both parents and then tend to the many normal home duties she has. Her stress level has multiplied enormously.

What do you do?

Number 1 – how would you cope if it were you?  What would you need from your co-workers?  This requires some thought because before your empathy raising efforts – you would have said you” don’t want anything from your co-workers, and they do not need to know about my stress.”  Don’t confuse empathy with pity, either.  It’s making an effort to understand how this co-worker feels and reacting in a manner that supports rather than ignores or denigrates the feeling.

To let your empathy kick in, start by taking a deep breath. Answering a snappy remark with one of your own is counter-productive, shuffling your feet, and looking at the floor when she suddenly tears up is also counter-productive.  Calm replies, maybe tell the group to take a five-minute break, or just a light pat on the shoulder can show your empathy without damaging your position as a leader or co-worker.

Where else can you show your empathy?  If you know this person needs to be home by 6:00 pm every day, try not to schedule her for later, and if you have to – give her plenty of advance notice.  As a co-worker, don’t be offended when she grabs her stuff and rushes out the door at the exact quitting time, you know why.

Sometimes you don’t know why – the co-worker doesn’t talk about her private life, and that’s OK.  Practice your empathy by noticing behavior, and rather than read something less than flattering into it, deal with it fairly.

As a manager, you may have to ask an employee about a certain behavior.  That’s part of your job!  Remember to be fair, not judgmental.  Just because you think you could handle her issues better doesn’t mean she does not deserve your support.  That’s empathy again, rather than treating with contempt, you treat with understanding.

It’s not always easy to tell if the behavior you observe in others is empathy in action, so it could be difficult find someone to model your behavior on.  If you are comfortable in their company, it’s a good bet that they are empathetic.

Time Management – Soft Skill Article #1

Today, you are a manager choosing between two internal candidates for a position in your department.

Candidate #1 and Candidate #2 both have the same hard skills and have the same amount of service time with the company.  So how do you choose? Let’s look at the soft skills that each one has.

What are the most wanted soft skills?

  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Time Management
  • Networking
  • Empathy
  • Critical Thinking

Candidate #1 has these skills to one degree or another, except for Time Management. Candidate #2 has all the skills.  Who’s going to get the job? If you said Candidate #2, you are correct.

Why is Time Management so important – and how can you tell if your Time Management skills are lacking?

Time Management simply means you are on time – or a little bit early – all the time.  It means that your work is turned in on time, and if it is going to be late for any reason – your boss knows why and what you are doing to correct the problem.  If you work with a team, you know how important it is that each member completes their work on time because if they don’t the entire project is late and the entire team suffers.

Take a hard look at your work performance.

  • Are you usually 5-10 minutes late coming in to work?
  • Do you have a hard time getting started on a project, thereby finding yourself up against a hard deadline and working all night?
  • When the team checks in for updates, do you have any?
  • Do you often find yourself going to your supervisor and asking for help to finish a task?

If you’re answering yes, or sometimes; you have a habit that needs to be broken.  Being late is a habit and being on time is a habit, so you can change.

“All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

-Zig Ziglar

There are many well-known ways to break a habit.  Start with saying “I don’t come to work late”. Ask yourself what triggers your tardy button.  Do you oversleep because you don’t get enough rest?  Are you late leaving the house because you couldn’t find something to wear? (Although in these Covid-19 days that may not be a problem!)  What gets in the way of being on time?

Getting to work on time should be the easiest habit to form.  Getting your work done on time is going to take more work, but you can do it! Any assigned task has a deadline.  Estimate how long you need to get the task done, break the task into segments, assign a deadline for each segment and check yourself every day to see how you are doing. If you see that there is a barrier to finishing on time, immediately let your boss know. Again – what triggers your late button?  Not everyone is a self-starter, but when you have a task to accomplish, you should be able to complete it in a timely manner.  This requires being hard on yourself – no break until you finish that days’ segment, when you finish, you get to get up and walk around for 5 minutes.  Keep reminding yourself that the ultimate goal is to be known as someone who is always on time – with everything.

“When someone can get work done in a timely manner, they immediately become more valuable,” said Steven Page, vice president of digital strategy at data and digital marketing services agency Giant Partners.  “Also, your employer will want to give you important work to do because you can have an optimal turnaround time.”