Setting The Corporate Example, Part II: Mitigating Fear Through Empathy

It’s become clear that valuing your employees for the assets that they are must transcend the abstract. It requires deliberate, outward action and connection on the part of leadership. This is your cue to be inclusive, not reclusive, when forwarding the company’s mission and agenda, and to keep the lines of communication clear of intimidation, contradiction and other toxicity-inducing conduct.

For many companies who remain resistant to this shift in corporate culture, the writing soon appears on the wall, indicating a toxic, unproductive work environment. That’s not to say that folks will literally voice their concerns to the parties they feel are placing career roadblocks in front of them. Their feelings often remain suppressed, as resentment and distrust silently percolate in an unhealthy brew of discouragement. If you feel your firm is immune to this sort of distress, think again. I’m often surprised myself at what successful companies are experiencing behind the scenes.

Navigating the Fog of Fear

To assert a suitable cliché, cultivating a culture of trust is easier said than done. In the past, I reported some feedback from corporate employees who were feeling angry, impatient and judgmental in relation to ‘the firm’. During these numerous interviews, I heard over and over that in addition to a distrust of leadership, there was a frustration with their teammates and managers as well. Some of the dramatic thoughts I recorded include:

“My colleague is my competition to my next promotion.”
“She’s a slacker and does everything at the last minute. This holds my up work.”
“He’s a suck-up and gets out of responsibilities.”
“She’s sneaky and had that meeting with the potential client without me.”
“My manager is not my champion; he says he supports me, but doesn’t know how to make my case.”
“My manager thinks I’m out for his job. He’s part of the old boys’ club.”
“She’s not supporting me for promotion because I do everything for her and I make her look good.”
“I asked for feedback and he was vague.”

As familiar and righteous as these objections may sound, they often amount to only half the story. The reality is, most people assume they’re doing their best, and through that assumption, are interpreting the actions of others as threatening. In their state of overwhelm, distrust and paranoia, they are unable to see the full picture. I call this the fog of fear, which is a corporate toxin. It’s an indicator that some communication protocols are in order, to figuratively clear the air.

Empathy Surpasses All

A revised office communications formula, initiated by leadership, should reiterate and model the message of trust for team members at every level. The quality of your culture is tied-in directly with that of your relationships, which will only be as effective as your communications. So, from this standpoint, why not create a thoughtful, strategic and intentional plan to share in this sense of security? Start with the spreading of empathy, using as your template the instinct that everyone has his or her own silent story. To personify this, I turn to one of my favorite mottos, which is a modified quote from Ian MacLaren: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great personal battle.”

When you fully process this sentiment, you can compare everyone’s life experience as being “the star of their own movie”, in which others enter as co-stars, supporting characters and extras. The goal becomes helping people view each scene through a common lens. This requires teambuilding, which will be the next topic in our series. Stay tuned!