Mark Craemer No Comments

Last week I had the opportunity to work along side some carpenters, and their perspective on working with subcontractors made me think about how important empathy can be in the workplace.

Like my father, who was also a carpenter, home builders work along side many subcontractors involved in things like masonry, roofing, plumbing, electricity, insulation, sheetrock, painting, etc.

What I learned from carpenters is that many subcontractors continually complain about the work each other does. Typically it is the work of the previous specialist and how “if only he did it this way” everything would be much better.

This got me thinking about how beneficial it would be if the person doing the mudding and taping spent some time painting over his work. More than likely, the sheetrock specialist would gain insight into how little changes in his work could better accommodate the painter’s needs.

Imagine if the electrician and plumber negotiated on where to drill holes in order to reduce the need for longer wires and pipes. What if installing insulation could be more fully considered when preparing the foundation and framing?

Empathy is the ability to put your self in someone else’s shoes. It is the quality of feeling and understanding another person’s situation in the present moment—their perspectives, emotions, actions (reactions)—and communicating this to the person. You learn what they are feeling, or at least you suspect you know what they are experiencing, and you can communicate that for further discussion or clarification.

Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help you better appreciate his or her perspective. In the workplace, by knowing the particular concerns of others would enable you to make decisions that help rather than inhibit another’s work.

The empathy in the workplace I’m speaking to requires more than simply doing another person’s job. It also requires inquiry and communication to better understand your coworker’s particular perspective.

Extending empathy could be helpful in virtually any industry. Imagine a cook waiting tables in a restaurant, a software engineer answering technical support calls, the accountant helping to make a sale. In every case, gaining insight into another’s perspective could help us make better choices in the way we do our own work.

It’s not unusual for some organizations to have employees “work the front lines” to stay in touch with customers. Starbucks has new employees—regardless of position—serve as baristas early in their employment to familiarize themselves with the ultimate reason they are in business.

Organizations should consider job shifting or job rotation so coworkers better understand the entire cycle for what the organization does because this could be beneficial in so many ways. If this is not feasible, they should offer opportunities for employees from different perspectives to brainstorm on ways to work together more efficiently.

Finding ways to foster empathy in the workplace can:

  • Create simple changes or alterations in the way everyone does his or her job that could dramatically improve efficiency by reducing time and/or costs for the organization as a whole.
  • Raise employee engagement because each employee can more fully understand and appreciate what the people around him or her actually do in their jobs. This can also increase job satisfaction because initiating changes in the way we do things can be empowering.
  • Better serve customers because organizations that run their operations efficiently can improve customer value. Organizations are also likely to have employees who care about the quality of their work and this is especially obvious to customers.

Appreciating the work our coworkers do can go a long way towards increasing appreciation of others, optimizing productivity and raising overall job satisfaction. Regardless of the work we do, seeking ways to empathize with others in the workplace may help reduce the labor in our work.

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