By Barbara du Preez-Ulmi. It is not about managing faceless employees anymore, but self-directed individuals. It is not about just logic and structure anymore, but emotional intelligence. It is not about isolated offline processes anymore, but syncronised digital solutions.
Individualism, emotionality and digitalisation are the driving forces of renewed organisational design.
How does this affect the way we manage the workplace and ourselves – especially, if so much emphasis is given to empathy as the magic glue to hold it all together? After all, it’s all we’re left with once artificial intelligence takes over completely (or so we hope).
A quick job search on LinkedIn shows that of 50 randomly selected international job ads, 98% request candidates that are empathetic. This is by no means scientific, but anecdotal enough to paint a picture. Even PHP programmers and micro-biologists are asked to bring empathy to the table.
There is a danger in hiring empaths.
Are you looking in the mirror or beyond it?
As empaths, we are highly caring, loving, and understanding. We have the ability to see everything from someone else’s viewpoint. We are enablers, and we make for great mediators and change managers. But just like any other human being, we hold both good and bad energies; we have our shadow sides, too. Since empaths constantly absorb bad energy from the outside, and try changing these negative energies into good ones, they build up a huge pile of proverbial you-know-what.
To more self-centred individuals (we may be labelled anything from narcissts to sociopaths), empaths may come across as annoying. We see them as individuals who analyse everything emotionally and constantly try to create solutions that work for all – and in our minds, a bit of oligarchy goes a long way at work to get things done. As more logically-driven individuals, we prefer to follow a straight route that helps us produce efficiently no matter everybody’s feelings. If we are obsessed with any feelings, then only our own.
This creates an interesting field of dynamics. It’s almost like highly empathetic people already have one leg in the door that is busy opening up into a new world economy – one driven by de-centralised collaboration, or an organised swarm of bees – and those of us who were not blessed with much of an empathic trait, fiercely hold on to the economic principles that we know, and which have benefited the world by producing physical goods that have created comfort and wealth through monopolised mechanisms (this at least for 20% of the world population).
In times of economic transitions, we need both.
Throwing a dove into the lion’s den
If you manage a team or an entire workplace, it will be in your interest to hire the right mix of talent but also of personality traits. Gone are the times where CVs and a litany of degrees got you a job; it’s become equally, if not more important, to hire people with the right attitude and characteristics.
If your current team consists of individuals who are more upset about the scratch on their Mini Cooper than the bird they just killed, you may want to recruit your future team members from the penguin-saving league.
Your reasoning may be that even if empathy can’t be learned, the benefit of positive empathetic energy at the workplace will eventually rub off on the stalest of colleague – or so you hope.
It’s not that simple.
You can’t throw a dove into the lion’s den and hope the lion will become a pacifist vegan. The dove might just be swallowed.
If you hire an empath into a team of people ill connected with their own feelings and those of others, you may land up with more of a managerial headache than a solution. You need solid people management skills and life experience to create the right balance in your human capital. But you may also just start by reflecting on the following considerations:
The dangers of hiring empaths and how to avert them
- Missing assertiveness: Empaths who portray a great deal of emotional intelligence but no or little assertiveness, may make for push-overs. This will most likely result in them retracting, feeling bullied or leaving. It’s worse if you hire a highly empathic person with no decision-making skills in a managerial role.
- Stress: As people who give a lot of themselves, empaths may experience and show more stress than others. Look out for this and help them with coping mechanisms. Empaths usually let any energy in and through them. If they don’t know how to protect themselves, and instead absorb it all, it may lead to enormous stress which will rub off badly on others.
- The need for space:On the upside, empathetic people are usually highly responsible and accountable, without taking much credit for their ideas and work. Give them space and trust in their abilities; don’t micro-manage as that will insult their emotional intelligence.
- The sixth sense: If you feel that an empathic team member is coming across as a schemer or as someone resisting certain change, talk to them. Don’t presume they are vixens or back-stabbers; it is because they can see the true intent in others – their hidden emotions and thoughts – that they may react negatively to certain new ideas or processes.
- Immersion: A highly empathetic person who doesn’t quite know how to channel their gift, may land up spending hours on the phone with a client discussing his or her child that is being bullied at school. This could work out really well for relationship building (sales and marketing should be just that, after all); but it may also result in missed deadlines, and worse, colleagues feeling like they work harder than their empathic counter-part as they deal with 5 clients in the same time-span.
Knowing how to deal with the human side of collaboration in order to avoid unnecessary conflict is one side of the story. It also helps to lean on facts, stats and other digital metrics to measure long-term impact and short-term rewards. To do that, you need the right monitoring and evaluation tools, and solid business and project management processes understood by all.
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