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Issue 03 | Article 03

The most vital ‘soft skill’ in 2021

The key to building more resilient, diverse and productive teams within the legal profession.

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Published 14/02/2021

Published 14/02/2021

The legal sector is entering a new age; the ‘Age of Empathy’.

Signalled by stronger teams, better mental health outcomes, and more positive workplace cultures, this shift is finally putting the cut-throat, lone wolf lawyer stereotype to bed.  

And the commercial benefits are real. Partners and managers in firms of all sizes are realising that teams founded on empathy are more resilient, diverse and productive – translating into healthier bottom lines. 

In this Q&A, we answer your questions about this crucial twenty-first century legal skill and how it can change the way you and your team operate. 

 

Q: First, what exactly is empathy?

Often confused with ‘sympathy’, empathy does not involve feeling sorry for someone. 

Rather, it is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and imagining what a situation might be like from their perspective.

 

Q: How does empathy build more resilient teams? 

Much like the construction and manufacturing sectors pose a significant physical health risk to workers, the legal industry’s high-pressure stakes present an equivalent mental health risk to lawyers. 

And with no obvious physical signs, employees struggling with their mental health often fly under the radar.

But thanks to a rise in empathy and mental health first aid training within firms, more and more legal professionals are learning how to recognise if a colleague is not coping and offer the right support. 

Some of the signs trained employees look out for in their fellow staff include:

  • Changes in mode of behaviour and communication 
  • Changes in routine, such as running late, or staying back to work longer hours 
  • Less involved in team situations, like meetings
  • Changes in email and phone tone, such as dropping the niceties and being overly direct
  • Less productive and excited about work

Presented by The College of Law, Mental Health First Aid for Legal Professionals will teach you how to spot the symptoms of a mental health problem, approach the person, and have a conversation about it.

 

Q: How does empathy lead to a more diverse team? 

Simply put, diverse teams are good business. 

Countless studies show that teams with greater gender, age range and racial diversity benefit from a boost in productivity and creativity.

However, one of the main barriers to diversity in the workplace is unconscious bias – the human tendency to hold implicit prejudices against certain groups of people. In most cases, it’s our inherent drive to like and support people who look and act similar to ourselves.

Unfortunately, unconscious bias is evident across all facets of a workplace. 

Initially, it may manifest in the form of inequitable hiring practices. For employed staff, it may result in unfair treatment and a lack of opportunities. It also plays a key role in decisions around promotions – which ultimately leads to homogenous management teams and boards. 

Overcoming unconscious bias is never easy, but it always starts from the same place: greater awareness and empathy. And this program – Understanding emotional intelligence and unconscious bias – offers the perfect introduction.

 

Q: What does empathy look like when reprimanding staff?

Every manager, at one stage or another, has to resolve conflict and deliver difficult feedback to team members.

The challenge is to do so in an assertive yet empathetic way.

First, imagine you are the one receiving the feedback. This will help you strike the right tone and communicate positive and negative messages in a direct but respectful manner. 

According to the Centre for Creative Leadership, managers who practise empathetic leadership are considered the higher performers. And the good news is, this type of leadership can be learned. 

This program from The College of Law is the place to start: How to manage yourself and others during conflict.

 

Q. What’s the role of empathy in the age of remote working? 

Remote work brings unique challenges. From increased isolation to communication mishaps, it’s no surprise that many people are not as productive while working from home.

If that’s the case for your team, use this time to practise empathy – rather than calling them out on the drop in performance. 

This could involve more regular check-ins with colleagues or employees to see how they are going. You can also ask for feedback on what could be improved. 

And if you’re looking to give your staff some practical strategies, you may wish to sign them up to our live webinar, Staying healthy and productive when working from home. 

Looking to master empathy while earning your CPD? Explore our CPD offerings today.