Accountability and Relationship Management

Recently, in my discussions on accountability, I discussed the necessity for self-awareness in management and teamwork. Understanding our own motivations, behaviours, boundaries, and expectations allows us to better understand our triggers, habits, and responses to the situations we find ourselves in. This all boils down to self-management, but it is time we stop looking inward and start looking at how we manage other people.
Accountability is a two-way street, it only works when all parties involved are self-managing, but this is only one half of the equation, the other half being relationship management.

Much of our ability to manage relationships falls under the purview of our emotional intelligence. The ability to sense, understand, and act appropriately to your emotions is part of self-management; the ability to do so for others is relationship management.

Empathy isn’t really a topic which sees much discussion in a business context, partly because it is considered ‘touchy-feely’, but also, because it is a soft skill, it isn’t really part of any business management course.
This has led to a lack of empathy in the business environment, which isn’t helped by the confusion between empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy creates distance between people, it sidesteps the situation and isn’t really useful, “I’m sorry that happened, now let’s go have lunch and talk about that project that’s due next week”.

Empathy is quite the opposite, creating connection and directly addressing the situation at hand.

According to nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman, empathy has four main attributes.

  1. The ability to walk in someone else’s shoes.
    Understanding someone else’s struggles is about perspective, you may not have the same struggles or traumas as they do, but you can imagine what it would be like if you did.
  2. Being non-judgemental.
    To judge another person’s situation is to discount their experiences. To truly understand someone else’s perspective is to understand that your life experiences do not encompass everything a person could ever go through, and that your situation will not always match up with those of others, there will be entire facets of another person’s life that you are entirely unfamiliar with.
  3. Understanding and recognising the emotions of others.
    This requires you to be in touch with your own feelings, and to be able to set them aside, allowing you to focus on the person you’re helping.
  4. Communicating that you see and understand the other person’s emotions.
    To let someone know that you can see what they’re going through, and that you understand, is to validate their emotions and express your acknowledgement of their distress.

To clarify, empathy is not doing someone else’s work for them or solving the problem on their behalf, in the workplace empathy is about working together with the distressed person to resolve the issue. If, however, the problem is a personal matter, as a manager or co-worker, be a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on but understand that it is not within your purview to get involved.

Understanding problems in the workplace is something best approached with empathy, because the questions we ask from an empathic standpoint are the ones that will help us get to the root cause of the problem, and unless we understand why an employee is distressed, we won’t know what kind of impact it could have on their work.