Using empathy as a management tool

The members of our leadership team come from diverse backgrounds, have a wealth of expertise and hold various views of the world. This diversity of perspectives is what makes us a rich, inclusive and strong collective. In this series of articles, we sat down with some of our leaders to discover their own unique POV on B4H (business for humans).

Valérie Provost is Humanise’s Head of Talent & Culture. Her empathy, listening skills and warmth have made her a cornerstone of the collective. In an industry where attracting and retaining staff is key, she actively contributes to creating a healthy and welcoming environment that truly allows talent to blossom. In a world that’s constantly in motion, Valérie is a courageous leader backed by strong convictions, actively working to build a better world.

I recently read this article in Forbes which positions empathy as the No. 1 skill for a leader. We’re finally talking about empathy as a retention and innovation tool, and not as a sign of weakness.

In any organization, human interactions are often a complex (but fascinating, of course!) factor to consider to reach our goals—and have fun together at work. Empathy is a strength that will get us there, even more so in a human organization such as ours which puts values like caring and listening at the forefront. 

In a creative industry like ours, ideas often collide. And that’s exactly what we want. We want to foster those conversations, as they contribute to the quality of our work. However, those constructive discussions can also cause friction. To maintain a positive atmosphere while having strong exchanges of ideas, I sincerely believe we have to think of ways to integrate empathy into our interactions and management practices. Although empathy is innate to the human race, it’s not always easy to manifest when we’re under pressure. Here are a few avenues to reflect on.  

Use empathy in challenging situations

When confronted with a conflictual situation or a difference of opinion, either with a colleague or an employee, the “easy” reaction is often to blame the other person, to be defensive or to complain. It’s a normal, very human reaction, but we can do better by approaching a difficult situation from two different perspectives: 

  • By putting emphasis on the other person’s thoughts using cognitive empathy: If I were in their position, what would I be thinking right now? 
  • By putting emphasis on the other person’s emotions using emotional empathy: If I were in their position, I’d feel…

Caution: Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and trying to understand them doesn’t mean not addressing the situation or avoiding difficult conversations. They can happen and it’s all right. Being transparent (in a good way) sometimes means having different opinions or facing tensions. However, approaching those conversations with an empathetic mental posture allows us to be more open towards the other person, plus it vastly diminishes the negative effects of those conversations and how we feel about them.  

Foster your relationships with your employees

I often repeat it in our leadership meetings because I believe in it: take the time to sincerely care about your employees’ lives, their feelings, their realities. It should be part of every discussion. 

Too often, we fall into conversations about work, especially when we’re working remotely. Make a conscious effort to understand what they’re going through. Pay attention to their level of energy (or lack thereof). And participate in the exchange by sharing your experience too—it might be of value to your employees who look up to you. 

By understanding and offering employees what they need to succeed, you unconsciously build trust and strengthen your relationships. Consequently, you’ll see a positive impact on collaboration and performance, in all its forms. 

Be careful though: Trying to understand doesn’t mean having to solve other people’s problems. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world (or your team) on your shoulders—it’s too much pressure for one person. Once you understand a situation well and use empathy, you can then find a solution as a team or reach out to the appropriate resources. 

An employee missed a deliverable? They might be having a difficult time in their personal life, or have too much on their plate and are overwhelmed. Instead of underlining the failure, try to understand why it happened and support them in finding and implementing solutions. 

An employee shows signs of impatience during an internal meeting? Don’t overlook the fact that this type of behaviour is unacceptable, but try to understand what led them to get to this state. There might be deeper, more significant elements to address. 

Make your manager colleagues your best allies 

We all have very different realities. I strongly encourage you to cultivate relationships with your colleagues and find out more about their lives. Yes, it means making time in our busy schedules, but there’s nothing like it when it comes to developing strong bonds between a management team. Trust is built with every conversation and every interaction. Cultivating those relationships will be highly beneficial to you! Share, discuss and have fun together, beyond work. Learn to discover the incredible talent of the people around you, and cherish it.  

Another team refuses to take on a mandate or to work with yours? Instead of thinking this entity isn’t being collaborative, take a moment to use your empathy and try to understand their situation. They might have resource issues. Maybe you could help them out if needed! 

Another entity doesn’t deliver a project to the level of quality expected? Ask yourself about your share of the responsibility. Could I have supported them better? Did I communicate clearly? Often, this type of situation can be explained by a lack of communication. Don’t jump to conclusions. 

Be empathetic towards yourself 

It should come first, but it often comes last. Empathy starts with you. Take care of yourself. No human is perfect, so be kind to yourself. Focus on your strengths! Empathy is innate, but it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily natural for you to show it. Make it a conscious effort every day, using it first for yourself, then extending it to others. You’ll see—it’ll pay off. 

Valerie is about to embark on the biggest project of her life: being a mother. She’ll return to us in August 2023 with a head full of ideas and excited to discover what the Humanise Collective will have accomplished in her absence.

She also knows that she’ll be able to bring her new role as a mother to her future professional challenges, with a different perspective on the world of work. We can’t wait to see her again!