Caring and empathy

Caring and empathy

When the Financial Times comes out with advice about the importance of business managers caring for and having empathy with colleagues in their charge we know major change is in the air. Not, of course, for everyone. Hard headed, browbeating managers will carry on though not, I think, for long. Goldman Sachs, never known as sissy, have sworn to give their younger members Saturdays off, after the equivalent of an uprising in the ranks. Goldmans are usually quick on the uptake. Yes, the air is full of empathy and we at Terrific Mentors International applaud that.

At the same time we have to warn that it is neither a PR game nor a weak option. Caring is the root of good management. Caring is not an add-on, not a potion you can take to last eight hours, not an embrocation or perfume to enchant your employee colleagues. It is a lifestyle, a culture, a way for the world. I don’t want to use the word loving because of its mixed implications, but I will say ‘heart’. For heart, indeed, is very much the heart of the matter.

“Encouraging, Empowering, Enduring” was how one of my former colleagues summed up my management style. I think it was the biggest compliment I have ever been paid. It certainly reflected what I had tried to do when building businesses and what I still try to do today as a mentor-coach. So what are the ingredients of this ‘heart of the matter’ caring? Are they simple and obvious like saying please and thank you? Are they complex understanding of a colleague’s mental order, worries and personal life? Are they, perhaps, playing soccer with the chaps and having a bit of a booze up afterwards?

All these may be involved, but they are the end product of your analysis. They reflect what you have worked out as an opportunity or problem. They are your action plan. You don’t reach that until you know what you are doing and you will only find out what that is if you ask and listen. I think everyone knows the importance of questions in management, in innovation, in development, in recovery and in everything else you have to cope with under the VUCA. But I seriously doubt that most people understand the art of listening.

That’s because asking questions, though difficult for some, is a doddle compared with listening to a colleague. No, colleagues aren’t all tongue tied and twisted. They are all sensitive – yes, even the  ones that appear boastfully confident or quietly determined. Everyone who is working with others has a problem today. The pressure to deliver your deliverables, to talk faster, to be clearer but to remain en rapport with those you need to influence is tremendous.

To all this we must add the need to listen proactively. That doesn’t mean simply hearing the words that are spoken or noting the gestures and expressions in front of you. Proactive listening involves interpreting what these mean in the context of the conversation. Are you the person’s boss, therapist, lawyer, parent, friend, lover? To each of these people the subject will present a different picture, maybe, in some cases, even fundamentally different. Each listener has to interpret the message, conscious of their relationship. Proactive listening requires much creativity and acute observation.

Observing, interpreting, questioning, imagining – these are the substance of good listening. And listening is the heart of caring.

I have three prompts alongside my webinar camera. “Faster”, “Smile”, “Shut Up”.

Could you need some prompts facing you?