Influencing Empathy in Your Organization

Influencing empathy in your organization, is it even possible?

Is it possible to change the behavior of others, a department, or even the organization? In looking at creating empathy, one of my favorite diagrams is called the Circle of Influence. It’s simply three concentric circles (See Diagram 1.).

Diagram 1

The inner circle represents items I control. The middle area is items I can influence. The outer area is items I can’t control. It may seem obvious, but this model can help out while you are struggling with what to do when the lack of empathy strikes.

For example, your supervisor doesn’t understand why it’s taking you “so long” to complete a project. You’ve explained over and over how people haven’t been available, and you are waiting on others. Here’s how you can use the Circle of Influence to respond in that situation.

  • Inner circle: What do I control? My emotions, my thoughts, my behaviors.
  • Outer circle: What do I not control? The reaction of my boss, the organization’s mission, pay scales.
  • Middle circle: What can I influence? This is the big question that takes us to the next phase. But first, get clear on what you can control and can’t.

To get clear on what to influence, first think about what you’ve observed. Write it down. Next, get clear on what you want to happen. What is empathy to you? For example, it may be one of these related to your boss or organization: Do you want (1) understanding? (2) a negotiated outcome? (3) to be seen as a community?

  1. Wanting understanding

The quickest way to get understanding is to ask for it. There are several mirroring communication techniques that help conflicts. One is to speak in “I” statements. I feel X when you do this. The impact on me is Y. I’m asking you do Z. In our example, that could mean saying to the boss, “I feel unheard when you tell me I’m repeatedly late. The impact on me is that I feel deflated that you don’t have my back when I’m trying really hard to make this right. I’m asking you to listen to me so we can put our heads together and figure out a solution.”

Then be silent. Listen to the response. You will see if you have a boss who wants to find a win-win or a boss who isn’t open to influence. Then you find yourself in the outer circle. If this is where you consistently find yourself, then it may be time to ask yourself if you can either change your attitude toward it (acceptance) or change your environment (moving into a new role, department or organization).

  1. Wanting a negotiated outcome

Here, the definition of empathy is not only being heard but having a stake in the solution. Communication techniques that will help you include first being vulnerable and then offering a path forward. In our example, you might say, “I’ve been feeling we are simply missing each other in our communication, and I’ve been frustrated. I’d like to come to a win-win. Would you be open to having a conversation?

Wait for the response. Depending on what your boss says, you might follow up by saying, “I’ve noticed how you want things a lot faster than I produce, and I want more time to make sure I have the right product. I’m thinking there can be a way we both get what we need. I came up with a schedule of when to notify you of any delays and if I can use your support. Would you be open to looking at this?” Again, wait for a response. This conversation can help you both see clearly what will resolve the issue and create empathy by coming to a negotiated outcome.

  1. Wanting to be seen as a community

Many organizations have developed what’s known as Diversity and Inclusion Groups, also known as Employee Resource Groups. Examples of these include Women in Tech, Black Leadership Network, PRIDE Alliance, Pan Asian Network, Hispanic Government Leaders, Veteran Onboarding Network, Millennials in Leadership, Parents and Work/Life Balance. For more information on ERGs go here.

Is there a group to join or initiate so that your voice is heard, seen and acknowledged by the organization? Talk to your HR department to learn what might be available, or what you can create and lead. Growing your network for yourself and others enhances self-esteem and career potential.

Empathy is possible when you get clear on what you want and what you can influence. Writing out your thoughts or talking with a coach or mentor can help you get clear on your goal. Then determine what’s in your control, and what’s not, and what you can influence. You may get a “no” but you may just get a “yes.”

Tina Mertel has been within the field of Performance Development for over 20 years, training, presenting and coaching a wide variety of individuals. She is a Professional Certified Coach from the International Coach Federation (ICF), and has authored the book, “Meaningful Coaching.” As a first-generation American, she honors the nuances of merging cultures whether it stems from various countries, families, or organizational dynamics. Her focus areas include: self-management, communication, relationship skills, work/life balance, goal planning, 360 feedback and action planning, following one’s values, public speaking, emotional intelligence, preventing career derailment, executive presence, influence, and conflict management.

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