Recently I was at the doctors surgery to get a flu vaccination. As I waited, I was struck by the incredibly friendly nature of the nurse as she welcomed each patient, many looking anxious as they awaited their jab!
And so she did the same for me. The effect of her warm and friendly manner was to make me feel understood; that she recognised what I was potentially dealing with as I gazed at the fresh syringe lying on the tray before my eyes.
She showed me a sense of empathy – so crucial in laying the foundation to positive interactions at work and in any exchange for that matter. Once she had attended to my emotional needs she went on to explain the process and ask relevant questions about my history. All went well!
In this first post following on from my comments about the World Health Organisation’s recent pronouncement of Burn-out being an official disease, here I’ll talk about practical strategies leaders can employ to impact the emotional tone their workers experience – day in, day out.
“I understand my workers” is not a sign of empathy; “Do my workers feel understood by me?” is the question we need to be asking ourselves. The likelihood of people feeling understood and supported to do their work can be increased significantly by a range a very simple, yet powerful practices leaders should incorporate into their daily repertoires.
As with the nurse it is vital leaders consciously employ strategies to demonstrate understanding as their first interaction. There is no point getting down to business identifying key outcomes of a discussion or a meeting; trying to engage and collaborate with your team; provide professional learning or feedback, unless you have firstly, deliberately attended to the emotional climate of the individuals before you.
“What do I want in their heads?” is a simple, yet effective question to constantly ask yourself before engaging with an individual or group. “I want them to feel listened to; that I recognise the pressures they are currently dealing with; to be clear about the ‘Why’ of my request” etc, are the sorts of answers you might be providing in answer to that self prompt.
Importantly, your words and actions which follow, will be given direction and purpose, increasing the likelihood your staff will appreciate your actions.
Staff also appreciate affirmation. But I’m not talking about a “Well done” I’m referring to a process where you go to the trouble to clearly identify the behaviours you rated by that colleague; the positive impact they had and then telling them!
“Hey Fred, when that client came in upset, I noticed you dropped everything, came around from behind your desk, took out a pen and paper and jotted down all the details to help you understand their situation. I also heard you regularly repeating back to them what you heard to ensure you had a clear understanding. I could see they soon relaxed and appeared to lose their defensive attitude and started to work with you. That’s a real keep”
A “Well done” might have given Fred a short term emotional high. The detailed feedback will achieve a more lasting feeling of satisfaction and show you are invested in his development and increase the chances of Fred repeating the behaviour.
Embedding these two strategies into your daily leadership will make a difference to the climate in your workplace.
Of course, what we shouldn’t lose sight of is the power of a smile. The words of encouragement from the nurse were accompanied by a beaming and genuine smile.
Isn’t it interesting that a smile adds warmth to human interaction, yet simultaneously takes the heat out of our exchanges…the sort of heat in a workplace which contributes to Burn-out.