Game Changer

Empathy: The Workplace Game Changer

Shelby Scarbrough

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990, describing it as “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions [. . .] and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”39 Later, Daniel Goleman, PhD, authored the worldwide bestseller Working with Emotional Intelligence. 

There’s an important distinction between EQ (emotional quotient) and IQ (intelligence quotient): We can increase EQ, while IQ generally remains the same throughout our lives. We can engage in practical techniques that can raise our EQ and thereby raise our ability to build a strong practice of civility. 

Radio host and entrepreneur Abhi Golhar details ten ways to increase your emotional intelligence. I’ve summarized and combined them into eight points: 

  1. Use an assertive (direct) style of communicating, while still respecting the feelings of others. 
  2. Respond to conflict instead of reacting to it. Keep in mind that the goal is to seek resolution, so make sure your words and actions are in alignment with that objective. 
  3. Use active listening skills. Don’t just wait for the chance to respond—show respect by really listening, and let the person finish expressing their thoughts. 
  4. Practice self-awareness and ways to maintain a positive attitude. Active awareness of our moods and the emotional state of others helps us adjust negative attitudes. 
  5. Take criticism well. Take a moment to understand where it’s coming from, and try to constructively resolve issues. 
  6. Empathize with others. Empathy creates a space for mutual respect, where positive conversations can occur between people of differing opinions. 
  7. Use positive leadership skills. Take the initiative, make good decisions, and increase your ability to solve problems. 
  8. Be approachable and sociable. Interpersonal skills help you communicate clearly.40 

According to a 2018 State of the Workplace Empathy study, 96 percent believed empathy was an important quality for the leadership of a company. In an increase over previous years, 92 percent of those same respondents felt that empathy in their company is still undervalued. 

The message is that employers who value empathy and promote an empathetic work environment can increase the happiness quotient inside their company, which translates into quantifiable gains in productivity and reduces costly turnover. In a post-COVID-19, remote- and distance-work world, the need to nurture a compassionate company environment is more important than ever. 

We are all too aware that cash is the bottom line of any business, that money makes the world go around. But in settling into the “new normal,” we must also understand what the practice of empathy and civility can do to help an out-of-sorts workforce feel stable and able to focus on the work at hand. 

One often reads about the art of conversation [. . .] but wouldn’t you agree that the infinitely more valuable rara avis is a good listener?

–Malcom Forbes

As I asked earlier, what benefit do we receive from expressing, creating, and developing empathy for another person? Our neurological “joy juices” are ignited, and we feel good—plain and simple. And what benefit does the recipient of that empathy receive? It ignites the same joy and builds a feeling of trust between the parties, so much so that a collaborator with a terrorist dictator bonded with his interrogator. 

Respect is tied to our ability to listen to other people’s concerns. It’s only through listening that we can learn what people are thinking, so it’s imperative that we become good listeners. 

Will Rogers, famous humorist, social commentator, and a good friend of my grandfather Jimmie Mattern, once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” It’s good advice. It stuck with me the first time I read it, and now I think of it all the time when I’m in a conversation with other people. It keeps me humble and (hopefully) listening. 

Empathy isn’t like opening a big sack, stuffing a heavy load of the entire world’s problems into it, and lugging it on your back—it’s something you can carry with you lightly. It doesn’t have to sap us of energy or weigh us down. It’s simply being with someone in their suffering—or their joy. We can be with someone, no matter how they are experiencing their life, without getting sucked into a vortex of pain and suffering. 

Empathy keeps giving back to us. The more empathy we show, the more connection, and thus joy, we feel, which doesn’t make sense when a lot of the time we’re empathizing with people’s suffering. Joy comes from sitting alongside a person, showing the person we care, and knowing that for that moment, our life has a very strong purpose. 

Times are such that if we each try, in a humble, sincere way, to empathize with those we don’t sense we have a lot in common with, we might make a real difference now, instead of later. With each of us facing the truth of our myriad polarities yet showing the fortitude to take action to “be with” someone in their struggle, we can start to bring true civility to our world. 

SHELBY SCARBROUGH began her career in the White House as a member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s advance team and then served as a protocol officer in the U.S. Department of State. She is the author of Civility Rules! Creating A Purposeful Practice Of Civility.

The above excerpt is from Civility Rules! by Shelby Joy Scarbrough.

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Shelby Scarbrough
Shelby Scarbrough began her career in the White House as a member of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s advance team, where she helped coordinate such landmark events as the Reagan-Gorbachev Moscow Summit. She then served as a protocol officer in the U.S. Department of State. In 1990, Shelby founded Practical Protocol, LLC, a company that plans bespoke events for foreign dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, and Lech Walesa.

Shelby’s experiences in both public service and the private sector have given her a unique insight into the practices that lead to positive relationships and productive communication between individuals, countries, and societies. Shelby resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a speaker, entrepreneur, and writer.

Shelby Scarbrough is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.