Truth, Empathy and Giving Thanks

filed under Communication, Cultural Change, Diversity Leadership, Key Concepts & Conversations.

Lisa Nesselson said: “If you used to have money, currently have money or hope to have money some day, drop what you’re doing – including working to make money – and see Charles Ferguson’s astonishingly pertinent documentary, Inside Job.”

That movie brings up elephants in the room of every organization today.

Speaking truth helps you steer a more positive course.

We are well into the third year of the global economic meltdown during which $20 trillion of wealth evaporated.  (How many zeros come after that 20?)  Some businesses are recovering; others were more recession-proof. Some indicators are up. Yet almost everyone at least knows someone who has lost their job, home or health as a result of the economy. Services have been cut to entire communities. Headlines keep us on edge.

The 2010 U.S. election cycle was perhaps the most bruising ever. It was certainly the most costly at an estimated $4 billion. Courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court, much of this money came from undisclosed contributors and helped set new norms of disrespect and distortion.

With all deference to war veterans, victims of violent crime and sexual abuse survivors, the term “post-traumatic stress” may describe some behavior now occurring in workplaces and communities. “We’re doing better [financially],” said one leader. “But people are acting as if we’re not.  Conflict happens over nothing.  Where you least expect it, some big fight erupts over some small budget item and you can never tell what’s going to trigger it.”

Acknowledging these types of situations can ease tensions.  Speaking truthfully inspires trust, and can help move any culture in a more positive direction.

Empathy leads to inclusiveness.

Elephants, more than any other non-primate species and more than most primates  (including some humans), demonstrate empathy – the ability to be “in feeling” with another, to identify with another’s emotions and experience.  Instead of divisions of “us” and “them”, elephants understand “we”.

Empathy leads to inclusion.  Truth is, inclusion has been taking some hits.

An inclusive culture is one in which systems, policies and people ensure that everyone is allowed in and can participate fully; that each person is treated with fairness, respect and appreciation for the unique strengths, talents and perspectives they bring to a shared environment.

Together we stand.

Inclusive culture is usually the result of good diversity practices.  Companies with those practices have consistently outperformed the stock market, in good times and bad, by as much as 23%.

You don’t need a big expensive effort to improve what’s going on right now.  You do need to grow the sense of “we”. It will be hard to navigate uncertain environments over time unless your organization holds together.

Lack of trust and perceptions of unfair treatment are the top reasons why people say they’re leaving their current jobs as soon as the economy improves. Lack of appreciation was a reason given by 79% of people who had already left their jobs. Now is the time to counter negativity and build a sense of belonging.

Truth-telling matters. So does transparency. And nothing works quite like finding common ground. On common ground, people begin to listen.  They find ways to more deeply relate to another’s feelings and experience. They empathize. They work better together.

That attitude of gratitude.

Positive cultures can be encouraged with small changes.  Saying a sincere thank you is one of the most powerful of those changes. It’s highly cost-effective (two words, free).  It’s also a dying art.

A popularly cited etiquette poll some years back found that fewer than half the people surveyed said thank you. Yet this simple courtesy can have enormous impact.

For those who need the business case:  sincere and timely thanks can increase referrals, encourage customer loyalty and help secure a job or contract. A study of 200,000 managers over a 10 year period found that companies with cultures that recognized people for excellent performance had triple the return on equity. And a 2004 Maritz study found a positive correlation between frequently thanking employees and employee retention.

Beyond profit, “employees with stronger hope and gratitude were found to have a greater sense of responsibility toward employee and societal issues” (Andersson, et al. 2006).

Beyond work, gratitude is linked to physical and emotional well-being.   Emmons and McCullough (2003) found a long list of results, including: more positive feelings and appraisal of one’s life, more time spent exercising,  fewer physical symptoms, greater likelihood of helping others and better sleep and sleep quality!

When people identify things that are going well and give thanks, things actually go better.

Now is the time.

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to begin new habits of seemingly small actions that will have big impacts on your outcomes for 2011 – as long as you keep them up.

  1. Acknowledge what’s in the room. Truth-telling and transparency build loyalty and trust. Learn how to encourage responsible engagement and talk about the tough stuff.
  2. Encourage empathy. Understanding others’ experience brings people together on common ground and gives them a basis from which to work more cooperatively and effectively, with less distraction.
  3. Give thanks. Count your blessings and encourage others to do so.  Express gratitude.  Acknowledge  those who have steadily served through tough times.  A pat on the back and a kind word cost nothing and yield high returns. Say thank you.  Make it a habit.
Be The Change, Nov-Dec 2010.

One Response to “Truth, Empathy and Giving Thanks”

  1. Kris

    I love what you have to say about having an attitude of gratitude.

    One thing I might add… This may be a great time of year to show appreciation to those you work with, but that is truly something that can be mutually rewarding all year around. I worked at a job that gave out small Christmas bonuses, which I certainly enjoyed. But they were also known to send thank you notes at random times during the year – usually in response to specific on-the-job successes. That meant even more, in my opinion, because the timing made it clear my employer wasn’t merely going through the motions of showing appreciation to fulfill a holiday obligation.

    So – I second the idea of giving thanks … during all the seasons! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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