Is an empathetic boss also an effective boss? Many managers as well as many management consultants quickly say yes. “Empathy stands out as the one focus area that can drive everything from productivity and profit to morale and meaning in the workplace,” wrote Fortune 500 consultant Marie Miyashiro in her book, The Empathy Factor.
But the question is how to create that empathetic environment. One approach is called nonviolent communication (NVC). Developed by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, NVC is a method of practicing empathy that can be learned. The “violence” addressed by NVC is not necessarily physical; more frequently, it refers to the mental and emotional injury triggered by verbal exchanges, such as those that occur in an intense family or workplace setting.
Eliane Geren, a Princeton-based certified trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication, offers a one-day introductory workshop, “Harmony in the Family,” on Saturday, January 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Friends Meeting, 470 Quaker Road, Princeton. To register, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit www.PrincetonNVC.org.
NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that violent strategies — whether verbal or physical — are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. NVC also assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.
The NVC community, active in more than 65 countries, offers some specific ideas for better workplace communication. One NVC blogger, Sylvia Haskvitz, has noted that “workplace relationships are complex. Each employee brings their unique self to work. Their background, perspective, emotional triggers, and working style. Add to this the dynamics of power relations, and the fact that often workplace communication now takes place at our computer keyboards rather than face-to-face.”
Some of the common communication mistakes, writes Haskvitz, a communication consultant with more than 200 businesses and organizations for the past 20 years, include the following:
1.) Speaking to the boss or co-workers instead of the person whose behavior has triggered unpleasant feelings. Commonly referred to as gossip, this type of communication often connects with one person or people at the expense of someone else.
2.) Taking other people’s words personally. Any time someone is communicating to us, their message is about the person’s needs and not about us. When we think the message is about us, it’s easy to become defensive.
3.) Stating an evaluation as a fact.
4.) Not stating a clear request. “I need you to go to the meeting at 10 a.m.,” sounds like a clear request to many of us. But what makes it unclear is that we are confusing needs and requests. If someone instead said “I need support in this meeting at 10 a.m. Are you willing to join me?” then the last sentence is the request.
5. Conveying our anxiety as an attack. When we’ve engaged in workplace communication and we are feeling anxious, fearful, or concerned and we are not conscious of those feelings or do not acknowledge them either to ourselves or out loud, the fear may come out in a tone that is interpreted as an attack.
6. Listening with one ear. At work we’re often distracted, juggling several things at the same time. People want to be heard and know that their needs matter.
“When communication matters and working together is crucial for getting the job done,” writes Haskvitz, “you may want to slow down in order to understand each other and connect. In the slowing down, both quality and efficiency are enhanced and once there is connection, the thinking, planning, and doing all seem to fall into place.”