People often think of empathy as a purely sentimental skill, predicated solely on one’s ability to sympathize with the feelings of others and provide consoling advice or a touching remark. While that’s a part of it, and certainly a useful aspect of empathy, it’s not what it is in its purest form.
Empathy is not about being unquestionably nice, or sacrificing necessary assertiveness when confrontation gets hard -- it is, in its purest form, about being able to relate with and connect with others on a fundamentally human level. And, this ability to relate and connect is absolutely necessary to the culture and climate of any organization that is driven to be successful, including schools, prominent businesses and governments.
In other words, empathy is not a product of the “soft” side of human nature, it is in and of itself a product of how we relate with individuals, and ultimately determines how we interact with those individuals in the most efficient and productive ways possible.
Empathy is the means by which we weave life together. It is how we leverage the skills and talents of others, how we engage an individual’s abilities to the fullest and how we push ourselves and others to keep growing and never settle for mediocrity.
If an organization of any kind is not constantly cultivating and curating empathy in their work environment, then they cannot hope to develop meaningful collegial relationships. Even more importantly, without empathy, organizations cannot hope to build a culture and climate that is focused on reaching the people they intend to serve -- the community of individuals who believe in their mission.
In order to understand the needs of your community, you must first understand how said community interacts with your organization. If you are unaware of how you’re trying to relate to that community, and can’t clearly define the purpose you and your colleagues are working for, and with each other to accomplish, then you will not resonate with your community.
Cultivating and Curating Empathy
What is the Purpose of Your Work?
Why do you do what you do? It’s a pretty simple question, but it sometimes involves a lot of complicated answers. In the end though, it really boils down to this: why does your organization exist, and why do you believe in that existence?
It’s likely that you have a pretty good idea of the why, and that many of your colleagues do as well, but is it common? Is it other-centered instead of self-centered? Is there a purpose that transcends what you do to accomplish the why and that focuses on the passion for why you do something? Is this passion shared amongst everyone? If not, how can you go about sharing this passion, or cultivating it in your work environment?
Consider curating other environments and looking for the common thread that defines the purpose of those environments.
Are there some examples where you have seen a purpose driven organization reach their goals because of the passion they associate with the work? What is the emphasis they place on their internal culture? How does it face outward to their community of supporters? How can this be replicated in your environment?
Why do you do what you do? How can this be shared commonly? These are the questions that matter when cultivating and curating empathy.
Permeate Climate with Purpose Driven Application
After Defining Purpose, How Can it be Applied?
After you have defined purpose, you will be tasked with ensuring that said purpose becomes a part of the climate in your work environment. This is where the relatability and connectability of empathy in its purest form shines.
People are driven by the belief that they are impacting change with the work they do. If they are given a reason to believe in something greater than themselves, something that impacts the lives of others, they will excel. The purpose needs to be the driving force of your organization, and a living breathing representation of what it feels like to be in that setting.
In other words, is the climate of your organization predicated on the passion that you and your colleagues associate with work on a daily basis? Can the community you’re attempting to serve feel this purpose when they walk into your building, or when they buy a product from you or when you engage them in important conversations?
That starts with collegial relationships that buy-in to the same belief that they are impacting great change, and ends with a community of believers that are invested in your mission to realize that change.
Leverage Empathy to Build Culture
Work for Others by Working for Each Other
So, necessarily then, climate is the intangible representation of an organization’s culture, and the culture is made up of the people who believe in said climate.
In order to leverage this kind of culture, we must first be keenly aware of how we interact with the people around us and be firmly invested in finding a common ground that exists on a plane where everyone can find something they relate to.
This often means making hard decisions, and making compromises that challenge us to think about the world differently and through someone else’s eyes. A culture that exists to work for others rather than for itself understands how challenging that work can be. It extends beyond the community it is trying to reach, and must reflect inward first.
How else could you understand the challenges that your community of believers faces without first understanding the daily challenges your co-workers encounter? How else could you present solutions to those challenges? How else could an organization tackle these solutions without first understanding where and how they originate?
Empathy is not easy, and it is not meant to be. However, to step inside someone else’s shoes, if only for a moment, is the most rewarding and fulfilling fundamentally human experience in existence.
We learn to feel relate to struggle we can only imagine, we learn to understand what we take for granted on a daily basis and most importantly we learn what it means to be fully invested in something that transcends our very existence.
There is no greater way to understand the world than to develop empathy both individually, and on an organizational level as well.
How are you reaching your community of believers?