E-mpathy: How to Strengthen Professional Relationships During the Pandemic
Transitioning from the traditional workplace setup wherein there is constant interaction between and among team members to the more unconventional work from home setup with lesser personal interaction and arguably more stressful and demanding environment is not something that is easy to do. A lot of companies have struggled in the beginning as the delineation between the personal, home space has become blurred and has become intertwined with the workplace. It is oftentimes, not a pretty sight. With the current setup brought about by the global pandemic, it has become much more imperative that a positive culture, one that is steeped in empathy, become prevalent in the workplace.
Jaime Constantino, a Partner for Implementation Systems for AHA! Behavioral Design, sits down with us and shares about the importance of maintaining a great working environment despite the obvious challenges being brought about by the pandemic. He mentioned that while the work from home arrangement is accepted, the situation that we have now is unprecedented as each member of the workforce is burdened with the responsibility of being productive while still trying to be healthy and safe while being quarantined. He stressed the importance for those in the managerial positions to be as empathetic as possible not only to be productive but to ensure that there are genuine connections amid social distancing.
Jaime emphasized that managerial empathy means the ability to balance mandates with the context and the feelings of the team. He also stated that it is a skill that can be honed and we have the challenge to be able to be as empathetic as possible. He went further and enumerated a few habits that would foster better relationships despite the situation we’re facing right now. Here are some of the important points of our conversation.
Among the things that Jaime noted that all managers can accommodate include giving support prompts – simply by asking your co-workers how they’re doing, how they’re coping, as a manager, you’re showing that you care about their well-being. You show that you are attuned to their situation and you’re willing to work with what they have – you’re being a good manager. Asking your colleagues what support they need would help ensure that the productivity would continue to flourish. The message is it’s okay to ask for help and you’re willing to give it to them. That little personal touch is going to do wonders for morale.
Show people that you value empathy. Foster a culture that is transparent and engaging. We all need to be supported and by asking simple questions about how they feel, we are making sure that they know that we’re present and ready to lend a hand if need be. Your colleagues would definitely appreciate it and their morale, and subsequently, their performance would be positively affected.
Encourage non-work-related interaction. Not everything is about work, although we are in a company. As the popular saying goes – All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – or if you want a more contemporary saying – How long until you drop, burning both ends of the candle? We have to be able to decompress after the end of a long day. We aren’t robots after all. We all experience stress, we all need to be reassured that we’re doing a great job. We need to be patted in the back every now and then. As managers, we have to know when we need to back down and respect the boundaries of time. Encouraging our people to have fun and relax every now and then would work wonders.
Jaime also reiterated the concept of BJ Fogg, a renowned behavior scientist from Stanford University who postulated the use of Tiny Habits to reinforce behavior and performance. Fogg, the Founder of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, forwards the idea that there is a simple recipe for success and ensuring that there will be cohesion in the unit.
The recipe is composed of three steps. First, the I will… (Tiny Behavior) part in which you’re to think of what behavior you want to work on – and then you commit to doing it using small steps to achieve the goal. It postulates that you can do the small change within 30 seconds and it acts as a seed that eventually grows as it becomes a habitual thing that you do. Start small and work your way to achieving the bigger picture.
The second part is the After I… (Anchor Moment) stage wherein you would find out where the behavior would best fit in your work from home routine. This calls for the fact that you would be reinforcing the behavior as the situation arises every day. From the seed, you’re then watering it, nurturing it and cultivating it, so to speak.
The last part is the Then I Celebrate! (Celebration) stage wherein you’re going to decide what you’ll do after you’ve achieved your daily goal. Would you be okay with doing a small dance of joy? Or would you kick back your feet with a drink? Whatever you do, you’re going to reinforce the behavior with this celebration. You’re rewiring your brain that whenever you have done something that is alright, it is important that you’d celebrate to reward yourself. It would then, of course, help you relax and be in a good mood that would lead to better productivity.
As a manager, it is important that you would project a positive image, an encouraging mien, so to speak. Managers should have a calming, soothing aura because it breeds productivity. No employee would want to work in a toxic environment where their managers would continuously terrorize them – it would lead to burnouts and decreased productivity. Empathetic managers understand and give opportunities for their personnel to grow and become much more empowered.
It must be said that the Tiny Habit recipe is not a prescription. It works differently on different scenarios and individuals. You can adjust and adapt to any situation. As a manager, you can experiment to find out what works best for your particular team. Once you find what works, make sure to use that formula to encourage building stronger relationship and loyalties.
Small Habits that Matter
Jaime also mentioned several habits that would foster empathy among managers and co-workers. Among them include:
- When you receive a notification during a meeting. Flip the phone down or turn it off or put it in silent mode. Make sure that you show to the speaker that they have your undivided attention.
- When your colleague rambles on during a presentation and there’s a pause. Take the pause and ask him clarificatory statements. He might only be nervous and you need to be able to reinforce his confidence to get back on track.
- Whenever you feel mad or irritated during a teleconference. Breathe deeply and look at your face on the screen. Re-focus.
- In case you’re mad and writing an Email. Before you hit the send button, read the missive thrice. It helps you to refocus and determine if you’re overstepping bounds.
Remember, as a manager, the WFH arrangement is effective but there will always be distractions that would make your colleagues go out of focus from time to time. It is up to you, as the immediate superior, to find ways to keep them in line without making them feel bad. They are, or rather, we are, after all, humans and not robots. Remember, personal relationships are a huge factor in productivity and it is up to the manager to find ways to be as empathetic as possible to spur his team to greater heights.
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