The One Essential Skill Needed More Than Ever In Today's Workplace
In 2016, I was having lunch my with good friend Jen Marr when she asked me if I was interested in joining her on a journey of helping others learn the critical skill of giving comfort. Would I help bring her existing ideas and programming to greater life as the Head of Finance and Operations and co-found a company with her and Mary Perry? My family and I had recently moved, and I had left behind my various volunteer leadership positions and my role as an elected town official, so I accepted. That company was eventually called Inspiring Comfort.
While I had been extremely engaged in community leadership roles the past 10 years, I had left the official workforce 14 years earlier after having my 4th child, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I jumped back into the workplace. It had been a long time since my years at General Electric on the Financial Management Training Program, Audit Staff, and then as a Vice President of Finance at GE Capital. Upon return to the workforce, I was concerned that with all the high-tech workplace changes, I might not be prepared.
Yes, as a small business founder, I had to quickly get up to speed on how to use the new software programs and applications that could help us manage our business on a skeleton crew. But I quickly realized that the really critical skill you needed to succeed in this day and age of high tech hadn’t changed in 14 years: the ability to effectively connect and interact with others.
What I didn’t know, however, when I returned to the workplace, was that there was a better way to think about connection and interaction. It was called the skill of comfort. Jen’s journey of helping others with comfort dogs and delivering programs to those needing comfort had opened her eyes to how people’s innate ability to connect and give comfort was diminishing because of societal changes. But she had a vision of how we could reverse this trend, and that is what my last 3 years have been all about.
The skill of comfort is quite simply empathy in action. There is a lot written about the need for people to be more empathetic in the workplace, but that skill focuses on you. When you take the time to give comfort, you have to pull together multiple skills to be successful, and the focus is on the other person. In our world of 24/7 connectivity, we should be more connected and positively engaged with others, but the reality is that it has pushed us the other way. Many feel lonely and disconnected. Obsession with the self, anxiety about perfection, and divisive online emotions have taken over. Acting on the simple but powerful skill of comfort can help turn this around. It allows you to succeed and differentiate yourself in the workplace and in your everyday life.
Exploring this skill requires an element of vulnerability and self-confidence. It also requires practice because it can be awkward. So, here are some tips on where to focus so you can start mastering the skill of comfort:
1. Listen - Listening requires someone’s full attention. It requires eye contact and paying attention. I speak with many leaders who tell me it can be very difficult during meetings when everyone is on their phones and no one is listening. Truly listening makes another person feel seen – it changes a relationship dynamic.
2. Be confidential - Trust is key to comfort. When you respect and connect with a person you are comforting, trust develops. Pause before you post and share on social media – take people’s feelings and trust into account.
3. Be present - Comfort is about showing up and being truly present for another person. You aren’t on your phone or a screen - you are there giving that person your full attention. Notifications are tempting, but resist – make the person you are with your first priority.
4. Be relational - When you are with someone, it is important to be engaged, kind, and to assume good motives.
5. Give comfort every day – not on select days - We all have hard days, but there is a good chance the person behind the register, across the hallway, or directing traffic has something going on in their life that is also stressful or painful. We are in this life together – let’s start acting that way.
6. Be there for anyone – not just your inner circle - You never know what impact you can make when you take the time to extend yourself to the person sitting by themselves or new to the office.
7. Don’t judge other’s situations - Being a good comforter is about listening to that person and in many cases not solving someone else problem but letting them share and speak without fear of judgement.
8. Don’t hold grudges - Yep, we’ve all been there – mis-understandings, mis-communication. Talk it out and move on – life is too short.
9. Recognize when others are hurting- It takes an observant person who focuses on others to know when someone needs more than a hello. Don’t be afraid to go beyond the “how are you” question and ask how you can help. Better yet, don’t wait to be asked to give help; sometimes you just need to go ahead and do it. It takes the burden off the person who needs comfort.
10. Pause - When someone is hurting, it can be easy to miss. In order to comfort, you have to slow down and pause to see who needs connection.
Want an easy way to remember these tips? Just watch your dog or any dog. This is what they do every day.
Comforting others requires slowing down in our busy tech world. It takes courage and confidence. It can be awkward, but the personal payoff is huge.
I can honestly say that now, after acquiring and practicing the skill of comfort, I realized comfort is what is needed to be prepared for wherever your journey takes you, as connections and interactions with others will always be at the core of whatever you do.
Comfort on, friends!
If you want to learn more about the skill of comfort, please consider pre-ordering our book Paws to Comfort – a guide, based on the connections dog make, to learning the skill of comfort. Help yourself help others and support Inspiring Comfort's mission to make society better comforters one comfort connection at a time by pre- order through our Kickstarter Campaign at https://kickstarter.com/projects/jen-marr/paws-to-comfort
Jill Bornstein is the Co-Founder and CFO Of Inspiring Comfort.