Empathy can lead to a better workplace

PUTNEY — RE: “Why is dignity and respect so elusive in today's workplaces?” [Editorial, Nov. 28]:

As I read your editorial about applying Betsy Myers's writings to the situations at the Brattleboro Food Co-op and the Brattleboro Retreat, I immediately thought of the book The Empathy Factor by Marie R. Miyashiro, an internationally recognized business consultant.

In this book, she focuses on qualities of empathy, trust, and understanding among all people in the workplace, from the CEO to the janitor, as key to a thriving and prosperous company.

Creating a workplace where these qualities are alive can turn a company from one that loses money and has discontented workers into one that is highly profitable with a committed workforce.

I haven't read Ms. Myers's book, but based on the editorial, I can see that the two authors would agree on the problems of the adversarial relations we are witnessing within the Co-op and the Retreat.

They would also agree on desired outcomes: i.e., successful companies in which employees are “successful, engaged, and happy” and “believe their employers value them.”

Ms. Miyashiro, however, offers some specific tools or strategies that could help realize those goals.

It isn't enough to say leaders need to develop more relational skills and become more self aware, emotionally intelligent, and authentic. Those are highly desirable qualities, and you could call them universal human needs. Other examples of such needs are respect, effectiveness, acceptance, dignity, order, structure, and life-affirming purpose.

Her thesis is that empathic connection between people based on universally shared needs is essential to people feeling valued, being creative, and productive.

Ms. Miyashiro's contribution to the field of organizational transformation is grounded in the skills, or art, of communicating developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, called Nonviolent Communication.

Four basic, learnable skills comprise the larger skill of giving and receiving empathy, also learnable. In this context, the word “empathy” specifically means understanding where the other person is coming from, sharing the other's internal experience.

Ms. Miyashiro considers empathy the most important skill leaders can have and use. It is even better when all members of the business from top to bottom know it and can use it. It is a skill that can enable us to listen to people with whom we disagree without compromising our own principles and to speak our own truths without resorting to criticism or blame.

Two of the basic universal human needs are choice and dignity. So rather than telling the leaders of the Co-op and the Retreat that they “must” confront their relational issues, I would recommend that they take a serious look at Ms. Miyashiro's book. It's very readable.

For further information about The Empathy Factor, visit www.empathyfactoratwork.com, or for learning NVC skills, contact me at [email protected].

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