The Power of Positive: Empathy as a Primary Resource

When a group member complained that people rarely thanked one another for their contributions at work, the CREW Facilitator suggested that group members develop a plan for showing gratitude to colleagues over the coming week. They would report back in the following meeting on how others responded to acts of appreciation.

The CREW process emphasizes the positive. Rather than stamping out incivility and bullying, CREW activities are all about increasing civility.

The power of the positive lies in its long-term perspective. Increasing how often and how deeply you focus on civility and respect lays a foundation for the future. These activities help you to appreciate other people more fully. They bring out the qualities that others cherish in their lives. Most importantly they encourage empathy by considering the world from another person’s point of view.

Empathy teaches that people rarely do things simply to be evil or to cause pain to others. While there may be a few exceptions, explaining other’s behavior through diabolical motives has its limits. Most people think of themselves as doing good and reasonable things. Most of what is experienced as rude, uncivil behavior is more thoughtless than ill intended.

The irony is that until you can appreciate the other person’s perspective, you are vulnerable to behaving badly towards others. Thoughtful action comes down largely to acting from empathy not from having a error-free moral code. By stretching your capacity to make sense of another’s point of view—even their point of view on their inconsiderable behavior—you are increasing your capacity to show civility towards others.

So, the first question in response to rude behavior “where is this coming from?” Having empathy with why a coworker is behaving badly does not mean that you tolerate this behavior. But it puts you in a much better position to improve that person’s behavior. It builds a sense of psychological safety among the group, increasing its resilience to manage future challenges.

So, rather than criticizing a coworker for failing to show appreciation, it’s more effective to model how to express appreciation and how good it feels when others make an effort to do so.

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