Liz Dickson FCPHR, a coach and consultant at Yabber Yakka, talks about creating a positive workplace, dealing with conflict and the art of listening.
Q. What role does empathy have in the workplace?
Creating empathic connections is an urgent business requirement because, in difficult economic conditions, it gives organisations significant competitive advantage. When we connect with and value people, it positively affects profitability, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, decision-making and productivity.
Empathy doesn’t mean agreement. Hearing another person’s needs doesn’t make us responsible for meeting them. There is always a choice as to how we respond. Often the need to do anything disappears after empathy is shown.
Q. What is your advice for managing workplace conflict?
Celebrate it. Conflict is only bad when we focus on the pain. If we focus on the ‘juice’ – the opportunity – we start to get curious about what people care enough about to put them in conflict in the first place.
Through empathic connection, we get creative about how to meet needs and deliver better business results.
Q. You talk about helping people identify and remove blocks to communication. What does this involve?
The first block to effective communication is not really being present. Instead, we are thinking about all the things we need to do, our opinion, advice or the solution we want to offer the person talking.
Secondly, we block communication through the way we respond to what others say. Typical blocks include advising (“I think you should…”), educating (“This could be a positive experience”), consoling (“It wasn’t your fault”), storytelling (“That reminds me of when…”), shutting down (“Cheer up”), interrogating (“When did this begin?”), explaining (“I would have… but…”) or correcting (“That’s not how it happened”). When we shut communication down, trust is diminished and people are left wanting to be heard, understood and valued.
Q. What’s your advice for managers in their approach to difficult conversations?
Check your intention. Talk early, clearly and seek to understand and empathise. Do you want to get your needs met and have connection, or are you wanting to punish or blame? Blaming can get us short-term compliance, but at the cost of disengagement.
Q. What are the key steps to create a positive workplace?
Celebrate others and your own positive experiences, both personal and work-related. Be genuine; don’t fake it. Improve your communication skills. Practise gratitude.
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