Have you ever heard such question? I have. Sometimes it is not even a question but a simple statement: „There is no space for empathy in business”, some people say.
So, what concept of a human being lays behind that statement? That we can be divided in two parts, the personal one, where we have feelings and emotions, and the professional one where we separate ourselves from what we feel? Is it possible? I have heard an answer that yes, it is. Immediately another question in my head appeared. At what cost?
Why do we have feelings?
According to what dr Marshall B. Rosenberg, the creator of CNVC claimed, feelings appear due to our fulfilled or unfulfilled needs. Since we were born we are acting in favor of fulfillment of our needs, with more or less success, using various strategies. Thus, is it possible to disconnect from our needs while we are at work? From effectiveness, ease, consistency, inspiration, purpose, safety…?
Well, I can imagine we can but at the same time the needs don’t disappear, they continue being unfulfilled, sending us messages in a shape of different feelings and the more unfulfilled they are, the more unpleasant feelings we might get.
Why is it important to be aware of your feelings?
Have you ever experienced a situation in your life of having a, let’s say, quite complicated day at work, you came back home, tired and stressed and when your child approached you asking for help in Maths, your reaction was (maybe just in your head) „Oh no, one more time? Isn’t he grown enough to do his homework by himself? What kind of teacher has he got that I need to teach him at home?…”. Maybe those words seem familiar to you? Let’s continue a bit that scene. You don’t verbalize all that thoughts, of course, you say „yes, sure” but after 5 minutes you start shouting at your child saying words that you might regret and be ashamed of after a few seconds.
So, what is happening here? You might have disconnected from your feelings at work, maybe there was some frustration because you need clarity or support, or annoyance because you need some trust, but they persist in you and your body, you want it or not. When feelings are not taken care of, they transform into more and more unpleasant and pop out in the most unexpected moments, especially with family where we have safety.
Empathy in business?
The wholeness of human beings makes it impossible not to feel in one place and feel in another. If we disconnect from ourselves at work there is a chance that we will overreact at home, or disconnect permanently, at home too.
Empathy, understood as being in such contact with myself and others to be able to see that behind every action and words there are universal human needs and feelings, is, in my opinion, essential to make communication at work, and not only at work, effective.
You might ask: “Yeah sure, it’s simple to say that but how to do it?”. That’s common and important question. Marshall used to say “It’s very simple but it’s not easy”, especially if you have disconnected from yourself for a few years or more.
Trying out a new approach
Well, you can always choose the way you are used to, but if there is some whisper in you telling you to try something new, maybe the way I’m proposing here will be of some help. Let’s see.
Imagine a situation at your office in which you have prepared some work for your client but before the delivery you meet with your team to discuss its final shape. Meeting the deadline you decided to cancel your weekend by the lake with your family which you’d promised them few months ago but the client is important and might bring you more contracts in the future. You enter the meeting room with the whole project you have prepared, there is one person waiting, it’s 10 minutes before established time. 15 minutes passed and there is no one else. You are waiting for 3 more people who have confirmed their presence.
You might start feeling something… is it anger? Because you need predictability and going along with your plans? Maybe you need some support and you wanted to discuss your project before you deliver it to your client? Being in connection with your feelings and needs is your self-empathy process. You don’t need to express that out loud, it can be your inner dialogue.
What’s the difference then if it is only in my head? Your reactions might be more conscious as being aware of your needs might support you while expressing yourself and making a request. But that’s another step. First, take a comfortable breath and see what is happening with you, with your body, what thoughts you are having – change them into observations (facts about the situation). Then, notice what feelings are alive in you and to what needs they lead you. And finally, what request you might have – request can be to yourself or to others.
For example: My thoughts are that my colleagues are selfish, they only think about themselves and their project. I also have to do everything by myself and never can count on anyone.
- OBSERVATIONS – It’s 12:15, the meeting was due to start at 12. There are two people in the room, me and one more member of a team.
- FEELINGS – frustration, some puzzlement, discomfort
- NEEDS – support, clarity, some ease
- REQUEST – I can ask myself to have one more breath and send messages to my colleagues to ask whether they are coming. I can start talking to the colleague that already is present and discuss with him/her my project.
You have a choice
That might be a small difference looking at you from outside but inside a lot of changes occur. Even neurobiological changes. Matthew D. Liberman, a researcher from UCLA, claims that only the contact with yourself through naming your feelings and needs, makes your amygdala calm and limbic system calm. And when it is calm, different strategies appear, strategies that might support building win-win solutions, making communication effective at work and at home.
Hence, empathy exists where humans are – at work, at home, at school. It is only our choice to use it or not…
Paulina Orbitowska-Ferandez (Poland)
Trainer of empathic communication, coach, eduScrum trainer, teacher and ex Headmaster
I work with children, parents, teachers, business and organizations supporting them through workshops, lectures or individually. I used to work at the university and in schools in Mexico City and Warsaw (Poland). I am graduated in Political Science from the University of Szczecin, Poland. Granted a scholarship to study at the University of Salamanca, Spain, I have finished postgraduated studies in Leadership in Education and Nonviolent Communication according to Marshall Rosenberg and Train the Trainer of Nonviolent Communication studies, at Collegium Civitas in Warsaw, Poland. Finished Business and Life Coaching at the School of Empathic Trainers in Warsaw. I have attended course given by Sarah Peyton “Facilitating systemic transformation through Nonviolent Communication, neurobiology, and 3d-mapping”. Privately, I am a mother of a teenage boy who is my source of love and wisdom. At the moment I am on the path to CNVC certification.