Not Business as Usual: Empathy Enters the Workplace

[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]

Paul Levy, director of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, is trying something revolutionary, radical, maybe even impossible: He is trying to convince the people who work for him that the E in CEO can sometimes stand for empathy.

 The Boston Globe

“Empathy” and ˜meaning” are critical in developing effective products, staying globally competitive and overcoming everyday business challenges.

 Bea Boccalandro on the Center for Corporate Citizenship’s website

Two recent online headlines:

British Prime Minister Draws the Connection Between Empathy and Growth

Best Buy Goes Green as CEO Dubs Self  ‘Chief Listening Officer’


What’s going on here? Are we perhaps witnessing the convergence of two seemingly opposite goals in organizational culture: competition and compassion?

In his new book, “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy,” San Mateo organizational consultant Dev Patnaik makes the case that empathy, what he calls a “sense for the people beyond (the company’s) walls,” is the driving power for both innovation and growth. He also says that when everyone in the company — not just human-resource folks, but also research-and-development, finance, legal and sales folks — are trained in empathy, employees connect more strongly to a sense of mission. The result? Productivity and morale skyrocket.

Enter Nonviolent Communication, a clear and concise template for transforming every-day judgmental thinking into empathy. It provides the “how” to this emerging call to rehumanize the way companies do business. No longer is empathy seen as a touchy-feely longing relegated to intimate personal relationships. It helps organizations align with their mission, and it helps individuals within and without the organization feel heard and understood for what most matters to them, whether it’s the receptionist at a community health clinic overwhelmed by the line of increasingly angry and impatient clients, or the clinic supervisor trying to balance governmental requirements for efficiency with the needs of her employees to contribute to others.

For the past nine years, BayNVC trainers have taught empathy, as well as honest expression, the other key component of NVC, to hundreds of managers and employees in companies across the Bay Area, from a Fortune 500 company to small nonprofits. They also have provided coaching for organizational leaders, which supports them in gaining more clarity about challenging decisions and responsibilities, as well as provides modeling of the skill of empathic listening.

One organizational leader trained by BayNVC directly links compassionate communication with fulfillment of her organization’s purpose: “Working with the BayNVC team … ensured the kind of results we were after: clear direct communication within our organization delivered with compassion and strength so the mission of our organization could thrive.”

You don’t have to wait for a training in NVC to begin to apply the skills and consciousness of NVC to workplace challenges. For example, if you are a leader in an organization, can you imagine what you could do to bring more of a quality of empathic, direct communication to your organization? Is it a difficult conversation you have been putting off? Can that conversation be enhanced by listening to the needs and experience of the other person? Is there a piece of feedback that you haven’t given someone? Is there someone — an employee, a customer, or a vendor — who is waiting for you to listen to them with care before energy will start flowing again toward productivity? Where can you stretch yourself?

If you are not in a position of authority, what can you do, even from the sidelines, to enhance the quality of empathy around you and in the organization? Is there a way that you have held your boss with judgment that you can transform to bring more compassionate understanding? Is there a co-worker that you have been adversarial with that you can stretch to collaborate with? How can you bring your skills and passion for NVC into how you interact with your environment instead of hoping that others will learn NVC?

Such internal explorations can have a profound impact not only on your personal well-being, but also on the well-being of the entire organization. Marie Miyshiro-Collins, an NVC-inspired business consultant, says there is a direct connection between the quality of internal communication in an organization and the overall health of that company. “We see a 100 percent correlation between morale and internal communication factors,” Miyshiro-Collins says. “If morale scores low (in her needs-assessment survey), communication scores low and vice versa. Further, these two factors are leading indicators for the overall assessment scores. … Simply put, communication and workplace morale appear inseparable and also have major influence on the total organizational health score.”

When employees and managers learn to connect with “the people beyond their walls,” both the company and the employees thrive because of an increased sense of purpose. And when co-workers learn to connect with one another with greater clarity and compassion, both effectiveness and well-being improve. As one Bay Area professional attests: “(As a result of the BayNVC workshop), we are now able to listen to one another with much more empathy and respect. We have reorganized our structure and manage our time more efficiently. We also seem to enjoy one another more and feel safer.”

© by Lynda Smith


If you would like to explore how Nonviolent Communication could support you in your workplace, you can read more by clicking here.

For a free consultation on how NVC might support your organization, contact Nancy Kahn at nancy@baynvc.org, or (510) 433-0700.

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