The holidays are coming up, so this is a great opportunity to reflect on your work and home life.
- Am I just doing a job at work or duty for a family member?
- Can I imagine how it feels to walk in someone else’s shoes and understand their perspective?
- How often do I turn situation around from a negative to a positive?
- Do I have the compassion to share, to give or to make someone’s day?
The need for empathy and compassion from a young age
I have two grandchildren; a grandson who is five and his two year old sister. Observing them, I wonder if empathy and compassion is part of nature or nurture?
One minute they’re playing nicely. The next he’s swung around without thinking and accidentally hurt his sister. She pushes him back, he retaliates, she scratches him…and so on. They both need their space and, when they hurt each other, I encourage them to hug and say sorry.
While the lack of empathy in a working environment won’t (usually!) lead to physical combat, incidents can occur which create the same “fight or flight” response my grandchildren were feeling. How do we stop and think rather than retaliate immediately? How do we use emotional intelligence effectively?
A lesson in empathy and compassion
I decided to teach my grandson a lesson about empathy and compassion in the real world.
My grandson needed to go to a swimming lesson, so we called an Uber taxi. We noticed that the Uber driver was impatient, he didn’t wait until my grandson had his seatbelt on before moving off.
When we arrived at swimming, there was a parent who waited courteously at the door until we got in. The receptionist acknowledged my grandson cheerfully, who enjoyed the feeling of importance this gave him.
After the swimming lesson, everyone rushed to get into the shower and didn’t consider that some people might need to go first. We decided to wait and see who needed to shower quickly.
On the underground, one passenger got up to give my grandson a seat, another moved over so I could sit next to him. We discussed how many other people hadn’t even noticed the small boy who was struggling to stand on the moving train.
When we went to the shops, we noticed that some shopkeepers were like robots, just doing the bare minimum to serve their customers. We thought how Alexa, our new, virtual friend, was more attentive than these shopkeepers.
Reflecting on our lesson
We discussed each incident and my grandson was able to see the difference between service which is done out of duty (like the shopkeeper) and service from people who genuinely care (like the parent and the receptionist).
We discussed the empathy and compassion regularly shown by his babysitter and the doorman where he lives. They go out of their way to help, are good listeners and are always there when he needs them.
We discussed the lollipop lady who controls the traffic when we are crossing the road and how she always acknowledges us. We too ask her how she is.
We even remembered the gentleman who was sitting near us in a café. When I went to pay, I realised that I had left my wallet at home. The gentleman kindly offered to pay for us.
My grandson started to relate this back to his life and what it feels like to be pushed around or ignored. He thought about how that must feel for his sister, or others, as well as himself.
He’s learning what it is to be human and have true empathy. He’s still a work in progress (I’m sure his little sister would agree!) but moving in the right direction.
The benefits of empathy in business
It’s easy to translate this story into tangible benefits for your business. We felt no loyalty to the shopkeeper who provided the minimal service, it will be easy for us to go elsewhere next time.
On the other hand, it was a pleasure to be greeted so well by courteous people, people who we remember, who give us a memorable experience. These are the places we’ll go back to and recommend to others. We tend to trust people who listen to our perspective with compassion and give genuine, empathetic suggestions.
Stop and reflect on the way you serve, manage and build your relationships.
The science behind the benefits
The benefits of showing compassion and empathy aren’t just about customer satisfaction, they have more personal benefits too.
Neuroscience shows that when you make this type of connection with another person, your body releases positive chemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine (known as “happy hormones”). In short, you feel a surge of positivity – and so does the other person!
On the other hand, when you’re negative, mechanical or angry, your body releases cortisol. This is the chemical that gives us a flight or fight response. This “stress hormone” evolved to help you escape from danger – but these days it’s rare to be in true danger.
Cortisol does play an important role in the body and is perfectly healthy at normal levels. However, a build-up of cortisol can limit our cognitive abilities, cause anxiety and lead to depressive thoughts. Showing compassion and empathy in everyday life will help manage your cortisol levels and reduce negative feelings.
Your holiday homework!
Take some time over the festive season to ask yourself a few questions about your own levels of empathy and compassion:
- Are there things which you’re just doing out of duty, without really caring about the job?
- Can you imagine what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes and truly understand their perspective? Perhaps someone you often conflict with?
- Do you have enough empathy to know how to really make someone’s day?
Have a great time with you colleagues, family and friends this holiday as you move into 2020, a new decade!! Watch your own immediate triggers, show patience, empathy and compassion.
In short, let the festive waters of your life flow smoothly!
And perhaps, like me, you could spend a day learning, experiencing and observing others.
In 2020 we’ll be running a series of webinars to help you stay positive and serve with empathy and compassion.
These are aimed at leaders and team members who want to create a more memorable experience for their customers, manage relationships better, resolve conflicts, gain more clarity and experience its benefits.
Contact Claris Coaching and we’ll send you full details of our webinars as soon as they are available.
In the meantime, I wish you all Happy Holidays and a very successful start to 2020.