Trust & Empathy: The Most Important Tools for HR Leaders in 2023


While today’s productivity metrics are positive, there are significant concerns about hybrid work’s long-term impact on company culture and employee collaboration, Michael Reidy, senior consultant at Interaction Associates, explains how to plan for success in 2023.

When businesses sent their employees home in March 2020, few expected that many would never return to the office, at least not with the regularity and rhythm they once did.

Even as many businesses begin welcoming people back to the office, scores of companies are making remote or hybrid work arrangements a permanent part of their operational methodologies. This is excellent news for employees. According to a recent Gallup pollOpens a new window , 59% of employees prefer hybrid work arrangements that balance the benefits of on-site work with remote work flexibility.

Often, companies are happy to acquiesce, recognizing that employee satisfaction and productivity are critical metrics that are enhanced by hybrid work arrangements. A studyOpens a new window by academics from the University of Chicago, ITAM, and MIT found that hybrid workers are becoming even more productive with time. According to the study, hybrid workers are 9% more efficient when working from home, a 4% increase since employees left the office more than two years ago.

While today’s productivity metrics are positive, there are significant concerns about hybrid work’s long-term impact on company culture and employee collaboration. For instance, a February survey by the Pew Research CenterOpens a new window found that 60% of employees feel less connected to their co-workers than they did before moving off-site. 

At the same time, many managers struggle to lead their teams in a hybrid environment, making it more important to have the tools to build trust and create empathy in the virtual workplace.

For leaders looking to make the connection, here are three ways to build trust and create empathy for teams in 2023.

1. Be Altered By What is Said

Digital communication tools – from Slack and email to Zoom and phone calls – have made communication more accessible for hybrid teams.  

Leaders can draw upon a lesson from the improvisational actor Keith Johnstone who advised actors to “be altered by what is said.” More specifically, leaders should be altered by:

  •     What is being said. Identify the phrases, proposals, or suggestions that are different from your own perspective.
  •     How something is said. Listen for the tone, inflection, and, if possible, the body language of people sharing their ideas.
  •     Who is saying the words. What can you glean from the values, perspectives, and views of the person sharing their ideas.
  •     The context in which the person is speaking. What is happening in the present moment, in the world, or in their organization or department that’s impacting the ideas and viewpoints they’re sharing.

As leaders, we often want to assert our opinions, believing that our views are the most important part of an exchange. They are important, but they aren’t everything and more engaged listening can help facilitate collaborative environments marked by trust and empathy, regardless of physical location or proximity.

See More: HR Training and Leadership Development Strategies That Work

2. Pull in New Ideas & Account for All Viewpoints

Approaching people with a mentality of openness and transparency builds trust. Being open to sharing some of one’s own uncertainties can make it feel safe for others to reveal themselves in return. Leaders can determine the appropriate level of vulnerability for their context, but it can be a powerful catalyst for pulling in new ideas and accounting for all viewpoints on your team.

These ideas are the product of good virtual listening practices, which can create rich exchanges that build relationships and serve as the impetus for strong leadership. Several techniques that can help with these efforts include:

  •     Yes… AND… This technique helps build understanding by challenging the listener to accept and legitimize someone else’s ideas before adding an idea of their own. 
  •     Mirroring. Repeat the exact words that have been spoken back to the person who is speaking, letting people know they’ve been heard.
  •     Paraphrasing. Rephrase the speaker’s words using your own to confirm that you’ve appropriately understood the speaker’s meaning.
  •     Ask open-ended questions. Probe for further information by asking a question that requires more than a one or two-word answer.

Leaders can achieve strong, authentic, and collaborative relationships with their teams by sharing their own ideas and expressing their own uncertainties. These efforts are amplified when leaders couple this with intentional efforts to pull in new ideas and account for all viewpoints

3. Operate on Purpose

The skills and values that made managers effective before hybrid work became the normative operational model may need to be updated to allow leaders and their teams to thrive. Leaders must reconsider their meeting structures, engagement practices, and employee expectations.

Change is hard, but it’s not impossible. It requires leaders to operate on purpose, determining the strategies and approaches that work for the individual context while recognizing that trust and empathy will not emerge accidentally.

Suppose we will proliferate communication and engagement practices that produce optimal outcomes. In that case, we will need to start by working on ourselves first, identifying and addressing our tendencies to push out information or rely on the status quo. Leaders should push their ideas to others. Still, leaders should also operate on purpose to hear the perspectives of others, developing an inclusive “we, us, ours” mentality that is predicated on and continues to produce trust. 

Why do you think trust & empathy can help HR leaders strategies things in 2023? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .