Using empathy to find common ground in the workplace
Sitting down with our new head of Paid and Performance Marketing recently, I was reminded of how far Edelman has come since I started here in 2006. Back then, we were a team of PR pros who knew our business inside and out. Today, we still have some of the top experts in the business, but the range of that expertise is so much greater that it’s almost hard to believe. Our more diverse model of specialists and services creates exciting opportunities to do a wide range of work – but it also comes with inherent challenges as people with different roles and backgrounds try to work together seamlessly at a mile a minute. This situation isn’t unique to Edelman, but I believe we are finding success in addressing this need.
I believe the key here has been promoting the role of empathy in the workplace. As the pace of business continually increases and we work with a wider and wider range of people with diverse skillsets, I see being able to empathize with both our colleagues and our clients as a core competency that is critical to building trust. There is an also an important opportunity to drive greater empathy in the workplace; the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that 75% of Canadian employees say they trust their employer, creating an ideal environment to support this kind of growth.
We often trust people when we share common ground (such as doing the same type of work) with them, which is why “a person like yourself” has long been one of the most trusted groups in our annual Trust Barometer. But we also trust experts, as the recent Trust Barometer shows, with technical and academic experts at the top of the list for voices of authority. To me, the key is being able to leverage empathy to establish that common ground and help us understand why our experts operate the way they do.
As communicators, many of us are used to putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes to see their perspective and do so intuitively. As the leader of our Toronto office, it’s also something I’m working to actively foster within our team, through both formal and informal initiatives.
Informally, I believe the best way to support greater empathy is to model that behaviour. I make a point of trying to understand what’s going on within the organization and asking a lot of questions, rather than making assumptions. I’m often brought in when there are challenges on an account or project, and I always try to focus on getting a clear picture of where everyone is coming from and establishing dialogue based on understanding before working towards a solution.
I also ensure that I talk about empathy with everyone from the senior team to the newest hires on an ongoing basis. When we look at what it takes to succeed at Edelman, I raise this as one of the most important “soft skills” that contributes to our culture – and our culture is at the root of our success.
More formally, we place a big focus on education, knowing that better understanding what the different specialties within our organization do and how they operate will help us work together more effectively. We run “lunch and learns”, job shadowing programs and coffee chat initiatives. We also benefit from our global Edelman Learning Institute platform, which offers modules on our Communications Marketing model and a myriad of other educational content and shared learning posted by internal experts.
Giving people a chance to connect outside of their accounts is another priority for building empathy. Knowing and enjoying each other as people – and we’re a pretty fun bunch – helps facilitate understanding like nothing else. We offer a wide range of opportunities for these connections, from regular activities like our celebrated Foursies (casual drinks and snacks in our café every Thursday at 4 p.m.), to our annual Little Give, when we all put our work aside for 24 hours to focus on giving back in partnership with local under-resourced charities. For the past two years, we’ve partnered with YWCA Toronto, putting together an incredible, intense program that helps us engage with each other as well as with YWCA’s clients. The experience gives us a deeper understanding of some of the challenges facing other Toronto citizens – challenges that can be too easily overlooked or misunderstood.
While we’re incredibly proud of all these initiatives, creating a culture of empathy is still a work in progress. It will remain a priority for me as we continue to evolve faster and faster, because empathy is an ongoing practice that will make us a stronger and more resilient team – and Edelman a truly great place to work.
For more information on the 2018 Canadian Trust Barometer findings, sign up to download the report.