By Chad Helminak, Director of Programs & Impact
No matter how the presidential election eventually shook out, there were going to be large groups of people who felt hurt and disenfranchised over the outcome. The results and aftermath of this election will impact credit unions in many ways, but one immediate area that needs to be addressed is the impact on our employees.
Credit union employees bring our shared mission to life every day, yet many of them might be wrestling with post-election emotions that impact them on a personal level and could possibly impact their work and the culture of your organization.
The wise philosopher Yoda once said that “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” To put it simply, our thoughts become our actions. Which is why we need to be open to addressing the feelings of our employees in a constructive way that is respectful of personal and professional boundaries. We do this by practicing empathy.
Empathy is simple but not easy. It’s simple in practice but not always easy to pause and consider how and when we should practice empathy. Here are a few ideas to help leaders practice empathy and feel comfortable in supporting their people during difficult times:
- Realize that processing feelings is better than bottling. Emotions are running high these days and it’s incredibly difficult to “leave our feelings at the door”. Bottling emotions leads to distractions and can manifest in stressful situations and interactions that will impact your business. Consider that a thoughtful and brief conversation could save your employees and teams from countless hours of unproductive work.
- Be a listener first. At its core, empathy is about listening. Instead of worrying over the right words to say, focus on asking thoughtful and open-ended questions. You can start by simply asking “how are you?” and following that up with “really though, how are you doing?”. Work on repeating back what you hear from your employee to reinforce that their voice is heard. Ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their message. The goal of listening is not to solve but to demonstrate respect and hopefully learn something new.
- Dedicate time and space. As we put a bow on strategies and budgets this time of year, leaders should carve out time and space to listen to employees. Consider open office hours or setting time aside with direct reports to check in and see how they’re doing. Make sure to reduce distractions and spend time understanding what it takes to create a safe space for honest conversation. Not everyone will want to share or engage, but they will appreciate your genuine ask and care in their well-being. It’s also important to respect when someone needs time and space to themselves.
- Check your judgements at the door. Our brains are constantly processing a ton of information from our past and present as we navigate our environments. But just because it’s complex doesn’t mean we can’t manage it. As Victor Frankl put it, “between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” By better understanding what drives our own worldview, we can pause before taking action and strengthen our perspective-taking and resolve in the moment.
- Validate feelings, do not seek agreement. Your employees’ feelings are always valid. Even by accident, we can find ourselves wanting to work towards compromise or agreement in conversation. This is a false trap we enter when we start discussing someone’s feelings. If you find yourself disagreeing with something shared, you can either choose to explore it with thoughtful open-ended questions or acknowledge and move to a new subject by simply saying “I don’t know what to say here, but I’m glad you told me”.
- Share gratitude. When we are actively listening, we’re asking the other person to take a leap of faith in sharing their thoughts and feelings with us. The ability to be vulnerable in conversations is a sign of strength and should not be taken for granted. Make sure to underscore that you are thankful towards an individual who trusts you enough to share their feelings. And don’t take it personally if someone chooses not to share. We have the ability to build trust over time by honoring people’s wishes and always leave the door open to offer support.
- Help employees re-center on our “why”. Everything we do within credit unions is intended to better the lives of our members. That is our north star and should guide our actions. We must tread lightly in talking about politics in the workplace, yet at the same time, we need to remember that political advocacy is a critical function of our business. Thankfully those efforts are guided by that same north star. So let’s not shy away from discussing how we elevate the voices and needs of credit union members by advocating at the local, state and federal levels.
As always, we’d encourage you to leverage the expertise of your HR teams as you approach these discussions and promote any additional resources available to your employees such as Employee Assistance Programs.
There is much more to explore here but I hope these ideas are helpful to you and your teams in the coming days and weeks. Empathy and compassion are in the DNA of credit unions. We can leverage these unique approaches to embody humanity in financial services and treat each other with the dignity and respect we all deserve.
I hope you’ll consider diving further into the practice and application of empathy with us in our future programming, and please reach out to our team at the Foundation if we can be helpful in any way. Even if it’s just to listen.