Collaboration Is A Work Ethic That Needs Empathy

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and felt you weren’t being listened to?

Have you ever been sharing something important with someone and while you were explaining they interrupted you and said something like… “I know what you mean, you need to”  How did you feel? Truth is, the simple act of completing our own sentences is really important. When we’re interrupted we feel one or more of the following:

  • Offended
  • Undervalued
  • Discouraged
  • Controlled
  • Pressured
  • Frustrated

In this last post of this 4-part series on Empathy & Ethics I will discuss 3 practical steps to learn empathy (read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 by clicking the appropriate number).

Active listening demonstrates respect – especially when collaboration is a goal. The bonus is your client, employee and supplier relationships will grow ever stronger. Heinz Kohut, the American psychoanalyst and prolific writer best known for his development of self psychology, defines empathy as ‘the primary method of gathering data’.

At your office, what is the shared understanding around listening to each other and collaboration? Is there a common work ethic everyone aspires to? As they listen, does everyone practice empathy as a way to share, understand and collaborate?Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 10.09.43 AM

So much conflict and miscommunication is because two or more people haven’t understood each other; they haven’t been open or curious to learn/hear what is important or needed. Instead of being open, many of us have unknowingly become closed. Like East Germany we’ve built walls in the name of protection and efficiency, but like East Germany, if we have barriers these walls can cause our own social and economic health to suffer.

But staying open takes effort and skill. Not building walls means being present and demonstrating empathy during the difficult moments as well as the good moments. And yet I believe the difficult moments offer us the greatest learning and the opportunity to practice:

  • Active Listening
  • Patience
  • Encouragement
  • Overcoming Obstacles
  • Responding Not Reacting

Managing Conflict Using Your Work Ethics And Empathy

Sure managing conflict is difficult, however experience with active listening, empathy and ethics is what we should practice when we are faced with conflict. Collaboration requires we continue with at the conversation rather than turning from conflict or taking aggressive action. In many ways, it is these times when the greatest creativity and knowledge sharing can happen as we have to explore new places or ideas.Screen Shot 2014-09-14 at 10.14.23 AM

When managing conflict, do not distract yourself with ideas, self talk, stories, expectations… emotional (positive or negative), actions.

  1. Notice the physical and emotional impact certain actions/conversations/experiences have.
  2. Notice your patterns of communication. Do you have a tendency to jump to conclusion, finish someone’s sentence/idea, become impatient and interrupt?
  3. Realize you have the power to choose.

Notice the times when you are being open and curious. Take pride in your efforts and ability.

Exploring Collaboration, Your Work Ethic And Empathy

Active listening is one of the most important ways you can support collaboration and demonstrate your work ethic and empathy. Friendliness and respect to others is a foundation on which we can communicate and build better relationships.

Step I: Practice Empathy And Active Listening

We all do a lot of hearing but we don’t do a lot of active listening. The essentials of active listening mean we should focus on what the other person is:

  • Saying – what words are they using… and perhaps not using?
  • Feeling – what does their words and body say that they are feeling?
  • Wanting – what are they asking for… either with words or just by sharing with you?
  • Needing – besides what they want, they may need something they don’t even realize – but you do.

Step II: Collaboration Requires Us To Be Present

To demonstrate you are an active listener, try to do a few of the following:

  • Don’t think about what you will say in response – stay in the moment.
  • Don’t judge what they are saying.
  • Don’t make assumptions validate what you understand and/or feel. Statements like the following work very well:
    • What I understand you saying is…. XYZ, is that correct?
    • I think I would feel… XYZ if that happened to me – and it seems you feel the same way.

Step III: Be Mindful

Stay focused on them by looking at them without staring. Don’t look at or play with your phone or pen. Stay aware of how you are feeling as well as how you imagine they feel and what they need. Also, don’t let your mind wander – which is harder than it sounds because you may suddenly remember something related, something you want to share with them, or something you need to do later. Mindfulness teachings say to accept that our mind wandered and then focus your attention back to the present. Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.50.42 AM

  • Look them in the eye – don’t stare at them and make them feel strange
  • Don’t look around at people walking by, out the window or at your meeting notes
  • Nod from time to time or give quiet verbal cues, this doesn’t mean you agree, only that you are following along


Don’t jump in with a solution or your opinion. If you do anything, validate what you are hearing / feeling. Say something like “What I hear you saying is…” or “I sense the situation made you feel like…” This confirms to the person you are listening and they will correct you if you are off-base.

Practicing mindfulness helps us investigate our feelings and motivations as well as the feelings and motivations of others – it also helps us explore the gaps – the opportunities where intuition and creativity can thrive if we give it a chance. Gentleness and curiosity uncover the opportunities; being triggered closes those opportunities and puts up barriers and potentially defensiveness. Barriers cut us off just like the Berlin Wall cut East Germany from the rest of the world.

Every conversation has something to offer. How you benefit depends on if and how you are listening.

Happy communicating, empathy building and collaboration.

I’ll enjoy reading your comments on this post.

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I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

One Response to Collaboration Is A Work Ethic That Needs Empathy

  1. Pingback: Conflict vs. Difficult Conversations | Bruce Mayhew Blog: Business Communication

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