Empathy – why it should matter to you


Empathy is defined as 'the ability to understand and share the feelings of another'.

In our experience, it's something that's missed by far too many organisations who are looking to drive engagement. They're often too busy putting together engagement project teams, developing action plans, strategies, communication routes, forcing pizza or donuts down people's throats in a desperate attempt to move that all important engagement percentage.

Whilst all this stuff might, if you're lucky help, doing it alone is missing the point…. engagement isn't about numbers or even 'output', to develop engagement you need to focus on 'input', specifically the behavioural input from your managers to the teams they manage and lead.

Up to 80% of an individual's engagement level comes from their relationship with their direct line manager, 50% of leavers leave to 'get away' from their manager… no employee benefit, communication tool, recognition scheme or even pizza can compete with that.

Stop trying to 'solve' things, stop trying to 'fix' a problem and stop treating employee engagement like a 'project' that can be managed with a plan or a strategy. It simply doesn't work like that, and deep down we all know why it doesn't work like that, because that's not how we work. Common sense alone should tell us that we don't work properly if we're treated like 'things', we only work properly if we're treated like 'people'.

Steven Covey said, 'seek first to understand and then be understood'. It's a lesson that the most engaging managers either didn't need to learn because they just intrinsically knew it, or learnt a long time ago, but for everyone else it's a great lesson for anyone trying to develop the engagement of others. Despite all this being good old common sense, it's sadly surprisingly hard to find.

Ever been managed by a manager who, if we're honest, should never have been in a position that required them to manage people? A manager who should've stuck to managing stuff as that's what they were good at and what they enjoyed doing before someone had the bright idea to promote them? Yes, we all have sadly, as there's a lot of them about.

For those managers, who would naturally run a mile from a conversation with a member of their team about their behaviour, feelings or emotion, there's hope in the form of a tool that we can steal from our colleagues in marketing called an 'empathy map'.

What is an empathy map?

An empathy map, in marketing terms, is a tool used to gain an understanding of customers. It has an image of the customer at its centre surrounded by six sections.

  1. Think and feel – what matters. What occupies their thinking, what worries and aspirations do they have?
  2. Hear – what are their friends, family and other influencers saying to them that impacts their thinking?
  3. See – what things influence them, what are they seeing their friends do
  4. Say and Do – what is their attitude towards others, what do they do in public, how has their behaviour changed?
  5. Pain – what fears, frustrations or obstacles are they facing?
  6. Gain – what are they hoping to get, what does 'good' look like to them?

How can we use it to develop engagement?

An empathy map, is a great tool that, with a little adaptation, can be used to gain a bit more understanding of how to develop engagement. Simply by stopping and taking a few minutes to think about the person you're trying to engage.

If you're a manager think of someone who you'd like to engage more and ask yourself:

  1. Tasks – what tasks is this person trying to complete, what questions might they need answering or what might they need from me?
  2. Feelings – how are they feeling about the experience, what matters to them?
  3. Influences – what people, things or places influence how they act?
  4. Pain points – what pain points might this person be experiencing that they hope to overcome and how can I help?
  5. Goals – what is the person's ultimate goal, what are they trying to achieve, why and how can I help them achieve it?

Think through these few steps and once you talk to them about it, you'll see that by simply taking a moment to think this through, makes the conversation much easier than you thought it was going to be.

  • Look at the response you get
  • Notice their behaviour and how it changes throughout the conversation
  • Hear what they're saying rather than just listening to them
  • Show that you understand their feelings
  • Look for their emotion

All those things will be in your conversation somewhere, because by doing this you're demonstrating that they matter, that they matter to you and that you care about them. In doing so you're developing understanding, trust and the single most important element of any engagement programme, the relationship between line manager and team member.

And trust me, it'll feel good when you do it, and once it does, and you see that having that simple conversation makes so much difference, go and do it again, and again. If you manage five people do it five times, then go and share it with another manager and encourage them to do it as well. Sooner or later that old task of increasing that employee engagement percentage won't matter anymore. You won't be trying to fix anything anymore, 'doing' engagement, focusing on 'output', because you will 'be' engaging by changing your 'input'.

If you'd like to find out more, and how we at Loving Monday can help you to 'be' engaging rather than just 'do' engagement, then get in touch.