Last week I published Part 1 of this post on empathy. If you did not read it you can find it here. It is based on the work of Roman Krznaric but I have given it a human resource twist. Krznaric published Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People. The first three habits were taking with strangers, overcoming prejudices, and trying another person’s life. Here is now is Empathy as a key trait of HR professionals: Part 2.
Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up
Listening, active listening, has long been considered an important trait for HR professionals to have. It is one shared with highly empathetic people. But Krznaric says there is a second part to this. “The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.” Opening up however is not an episode of one-upmanship. You don’t have to show people that you have suffered more than they have to make a point.
Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change
Krznaric says that empathy is not just an individual trait, it can also be a social movement. He uses the examples of the Asian tsunami, social welfare, the labor movement and others as societal movements with large components of empathy. Corporate charitable activities, such as Habitat for Humanity, can fulfill this role. My friend Dwane Lay, at the last two SHRM conferences has organized some sport activity in order to raise money for a local charity in the host city. He has been very successful and has accomplished a lot of good. As a result he is much admired though that was not his intent at all. What can you help your organization do that will be empathetic on a social basis.
Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination
Krznaic says that most people believe empathy needs to be reserved for those on the fringes of society. He says that is a necessary part but is not sufficient. He says we need to embrace our enemies. The HR professional should embrace viewpoints that are counter to their own and help others in the company do the same thing. He talks about “Bill Drayton, the renowned ‘father of social entrepreneurship,’ believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership.” In an HR setting it might work in dealing with a labor union. It might help to step into their boots and understand their point of view if you want to be able to persuade employees that the union is not necessary. Without imagining their side you will not be able to effectively articulate your side. Krznaric called this “instrumental empathy.”
I mentioned Dwane Lay earlier and as I was writing this I could think of no better example of an HR professional who demonstrates this type of empathy. With Dwane there are no strangers. Dwane challenges prejudices and does it publicly. I mentioned his efforts to raise money in whatever city is hosting SHRM. So if you want a role model on being empathetic in HR look at Mr. Lay. By the way just because he is empathetic does not mean he is a pushover. You do not need to equate empathy with weakness.
What about you? Do you have anyone you would nominate for being an empathetic HR professional? Do you exhibit these traits?