Empathy In The Workplace

Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experience of others. It is more than a simple sympathy, which is the ability to understand and support others with compassion and sensitivity. In other words, it is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs.

In the workplace, empathy can show a deep respect for coworkers and show that you care, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale, and loyalty. It is a powerful tool in leadership.

Empathetic people listen attentively to what someone is telling them and not easily distracted. They spend more time listening than talking. They want to understand the circumstance of others which helps those around them especially the feeling of being heard and recognized.

Executives and managers have an attitude of openness towards an understanding of the feelings and emotions of their subordinates. It is crucial in the workplace. It is necessary for every organization which deals with failures, poor performance and employees who truly want to succeed.

When you have compassion, you can easily understand what a person is feeling in a given moment, and understand why other people’s actions make sense to them. It helps us to communicate our ideas in a way that makes sense to others. It also helps us understand others when they want to approach us.

However, only a few people have this trait. Some people have fantastic natural empathy and can pick up how someone else is feeling simply by looking at them. Some people are insensitive that they won’t even notice that you are angry until you begin shouting. Most people lie somewhere in the middle and understand how someone else is feeling only at times.

If you want to understand the feelings of others, you need to learn to empathize with yourself first because understanding and accepting your own feelings is essential in empathizing with others.

Anyone can learn to understand how others are thinking and feeling. When you understand what someone else is thinking or feeling, it becomes easier to interact with them. But there’s a nonverbal aspect to an interaction that deserves special attention. The knowledge you gain from empathy can help you to use appropriate nonverbal communication which is more effective than oral communication.

Empathy, therefore, allows us to create bonds of trust. It gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking. It helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, and it sharpens our sound judgment.

Appearance-Obsession in the Workplace

When you are deliberately thinking ‘Dress for Success’ and keep up with updates in fashion and styles, you are not obsessed with appearance, at least not yet.

Particular women and men that are appearance-obsessed are preoccupied daily with their looks in their private lives as well as in their workplace. Enormous amounts of resources are devoted to achieve conformity with the changing fashion, beauty and cosmetics innovations.

What are the signs of appearance obsession in the workplace?

Here is a list of questions given to me by a Holly, a young female executive who admits that a great deal of her working day is spent in questioning and obsessing over her appearance and the others’ reaction to her looks.

How do I look in the clothes that I am wearing now?

How do I look from the back? From the side?

Do these clothes make me look fat?

How do other women look today?

What are they wearing to work?

Who looks ‘hot’ in the meeting today?

How many in the office have noticed me today?

Should I go home and change during lunch?

What cosmetic procedure can fix some blemishes?

Who are the cosmetic surgeons to the stars?

These questions and many more take away from Holly’s ability to focus on her projects and deal with her subordinates, not to mention meeting dead lines…

When Holly looks back at her last year’s job performance she feels ashamed, lack of self respect and pride. Holly was fired from a prestigious position. She could not focused, deliver, nor couls she meet dead lines. Holly became one of my executive coaching clients just after her recent job lose.

What is happening here?

Obsession with perfection, beauty and appearance has been growing fast in this culture. This obsession is fed by TV shows like Extreme Makeover and other programs that ‘educate’ the public about how easy it is to construct a perfect look. Some women who were more sensitive than others to their appearance become more obsessed as our culture is exposed to mega dosages of cosmetics and plastic surgery possibilities.

The New Workplace Issue

Considering the pervasiveness of this new obsession; what is the chance that a young female worker will feel comfortable with her own appearance at a new workplace? Or even veteran woman who is now in a new role? Growing in our culture, women today are trapped, thinking their presence is about attractiveness, beauty and the size of their body parts.

Co-workers and workplace culture play a major role in how women react to their own bodies, and specifically their appearance in spite of themselves. Some women in this culture easily fall into a “man-made” trap. The need for perfection in body size and shape coupled with changing fashions and looks that are ‘in’ or ‘out’ creates pressures on women in the workplace that need to be addressed.

There are health and psychological consequences to the new phenomenon; using our bodies to express fashion/beauty trends seems to induce a new emotion in the general population: shame. That is not shame about behaviors or acts but shame about our natural and healthy bodies and the normal process of aging. Obsessions may develop as an attempt to deal with shame and/or through the effort to cover up that disturbing feeling. Making one’s appearance the center of one’s being is exceeding the boundaries of what is beneficial to the workplace and for the mental health of its members.

In my experience, poor body-image and appearance-obsession are issues that will respond well and be helped by coaching and if necessary, psychotherapy.

Controversial Topics In The Workplace

Background

During college, I was given the opportunity to intern with a company called FCSI (Food-service Consultants Society International). This company offers design and management consulting services, specialized in the food-service and hospitality industry, across the world. In FCSI, there are divisions throughout the world and here in the States we are known as FCSI The Americas (includes Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, and South America).

While doing these internships, I can be apart of the Nashville, TN conference and Denver, CO Conference. During these conferences consulting firms come in and learn about things that are up and coming for the food-service industry. Or they learn about new resources to help their company grow. They also get to enjoy networking events during the evening hours.

Layout of Conference planning

Roughly a year out from the conference, all staff and Conference planning committee members fly to the destination of the conference and explore the city. During this time, all members and staff get to check out offsite locations for networking events for the nights of the conference, along with having an all day meeting deciding what topics will be offered for discussion at the Conference in the following year. For this topic, we will only look at the event that took place in Denver, CO which took place from April 19-21.

The Problem Arises

There is no coincidence that the conference would fall on April 20 and knowing that cannabis is legal in Colorado. The committee thought that since cannabis is a big topic about becoming legal, that many consultants would need to know how to design a kitchen to expand their business. They figured bringing someone in to talk about their design of their kitchen and how they prepare things would be an awesome topic for a keynote speaker.

A couple of weeks later, my boss received an email from an FCSI The Americas board member stating her concern with the cannabis topic. She thought that it was not relevant and the committee was making our company into a mockery because the conference is going to be held on 4/20. She also thought that the committee was wanting to promote the drugs and have whatever speaker we have bring in edibles that they would have ready in said kitchen. My boss brought it to the staffs attention that this particular board member had a history with cannabis and did not want it to interfere with her life again. She was afraid that not everyone would enjoy listening to the topic for a keynote session anyway. Out of all the board members, she was the only one who had an issue with this session.

Finding a solution

After receiving this email from the board member, my boss set up a conference call with the Conference planning committee. During this call, he explained the email he received and asked the committee to figure out a solution. Since his staff was just coordinating the conference, it was the committee’s choice on what they want to learn. After speaking on the phone for a while, the committee came up with 2 options.

Eliminate the topic completely and find a new keynote

Move the cannabis topic from a keynote speaker to a breakout session, so the people who would feel uncomfortable about the topic would not have to attend.

All the conference planning committee members agreed the cannabis topic needed to stay, but just moved into a breakout session. Doing this gives people the choice of attending the session or not. and they speaker will only educate about kitchens and how they need to be designed. Many consultants were already creating kitchens for clients. They need to incorporate this topic into the conference. Everyone decided that it be part of the breakout sessions.

To present their choice to the board, the committee chair wrote a letter explaining why they wanted to keep it and that it would not be geared toward “drugs are good” idea.

Conclusion

The problem was very childish, but even controversial topics need to be addressed. They need to be presented in the right way, but they should be talked about if it has to do with your line of work. The conference planning committee did a noble thing by taking the cannabis topic out of the keynote slot and sliding it into a break out session instead.