Developing empathy is a great way to generate open communication, increase trust, and build a virtual team that is strong and efficient. You may think that demonstrating empathy is challenging at first because it takes time and effort to develop awareness and compassion. However, understanding and sharing the feelings of others in the virtual workplace is far less abstract than it may seem.
The building of empathetic relationships benefits much from the assistance of visual cues such as facial expressions and body language. We can gain a better sense of one’s feelings when we can see the messages being conveyed through their eyes, for example. Similarly, a certain posture may lead us to conclude that a person is angry, sad, or confused. When we consider all that is conveyed through body language we can see why the mere presence of an individual in front of us gives us a sense of the emotions running through their minds. But we do not only go about building empathy based on what we see. In fact, it is possible to build empathy in a virtual team where such visual cues are often unavailable.
There are 7 ways to build empathy within your team:
1. The first thing we can do toward becoming empathetic is to listen. The next time you are conversing with a colleague, instead of thinking about what you will say next and waiting for a time to interject—listen. This also means that when you are speaking with someone you will avoid multitasking. Be fully present with your colleague and refrain from checking your phone, answering emails, doing other work, or taking other calls. Give the person your speaking to your undivided attention.
2. Tune into non-verbal cues such as hesitations and silences. Is your colleague taking long pauses between statements? Are they sounding uneasy when expressing their opinion on a subject? Listen in and ask yourself if your colleague’s tone sounds different from how it is typical for them to sound. If a manager senses that something is “off” with a team member, they can make it a point to get in touch directly with that team member after a meeting so that they may check in with them privately.
3. Look into the words that you are hearing. If, for example, you find yourself in conversation with an angry colleague, refrain from absorbing their anger within yourself. Instead of responding to words delivered out of frustration, try to understand and respond to the underlying emotion. You will begin to see that behind a colleague’s irritation may be misunderstanding, judgment, detachment, stress, or other feelings. When you try to understand those feelings, rather than reacting to angry words, the person will begin to relax, open up, and trust. In doing this, you and your colleague will begin communicate openly as you both work through the challenge together.
4. If during a conversation you find yourself becoming frustrated with the person you are speaking to, remember the whole person. Do not lose sight of a colleague’s positive qualities. In the moment you find yourself becoming frustrated with someone, make it a point to remind yourself of one of his or her strengths.
5. Judge less and accept more. It is important to remember that what irritates you about a colleague is likely to be a characteristic that you possess. Simply reminding yourself of this point will allow you to be less judgmental of the words and actions of others. Before you react and judge a team member, ask yourself, “Is this something I do?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ then you are better prepared to address your colleague with empathy.
6. Be compassionate. We all have our flaws, and you do not have to agree with someone to empathize with them. Be open to what others have to say and how they work. In the process, chances are, you will discover a great deal about what you bring to your virtual team.
7. Mentally place yourself in the situation of the other person. Feelings of unhappiness, stress, and frustration are universal. Try to remind yourself of a time when you experienced something similar. Recall challenges you yourself have had in a virtual team. Thinking back to that situation, what would have helped you? The wisdom you gained from that experience may be of great help to your fellow colleague.
To assist you in building empathy within your virtual team, be sure to encourage everyone to contribute during meetings and acknowledge the efforts of your colleagues. Deliver genuine praise for a job well done. Additionally, take authentic interest in your team members. Show them that you care by asking them questions about their interests, challenges, and aspirations. A great way to encourage this kind of interaction within your team is by holding virtual gatherings. For example, virtual managers can hold virtual coffee breaks, pizza parties, and other casual get-togethers where no talk of work is permitted. This will allow team members a chance to open up about other aspects of their lives and create the opportunity for team members to find common ground and become more empathetic.
The process of building empathy within your virtual team takes practice. Having said that, know that if you may come up short sometimes remember to give yourself a break. As long as your intentions and efforts are in the right direction at most times, and you strive to redirect how you respond to others in difficult situations, it will all work out in the end. Remember: an empathetic virtual team is a successful team, and there are many benefits attached to fostering empathy in the virtual work place. For one, you will become more aware of how people think, feel, and react to situations. As a leader, you will become more adept at analyzing the performance of your team members, and you will be more mindful of their needs. Empathy will promote open communication and build stronger bonds of trust within your virtual team. Likewise, empathetic virtual team members will become better at resolving conflict, will deliver more effective feedback, and will make better decisions. Empathy inspires positivity and productivity in all who embody it. With a little practice your virtual team can master empathy and harness success.