In this blog series, we share simple ways to optimize inspiration. Last week we looked at the relationship between experiencing fairness and feeling inspired. Today we share ways to boost inspiration by increasing empathy and connection with others.  Empathy is one of the six core conditions for psychological safety, the optimum environment for engagement and performance.

When we show and feel empathy, we alter brain chemistry by raising oxytocin levels in ourselves and in others. Oxytocin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It promotes experiences of trust and can dispel feelings of depression. Most interestingly for inspiration, scientists have found that increased oxytocin also increases creative cognition.*

Here are 3 easy ways to foster empathy to ramp up inspiration on your team:

  1. Get personal

Oxytocin influences our social brain to favour those we feel closest to, over people we don’t know. So, as leaders we can be getting to know team members and clients, encouraging personal information sharing and social bonding. The simple act of storytelling has been shown in hospital studies to increase oxytocin and lower the stress hormone cortisol.** So, talking about our lives and families, and sharing what we care about and enjoy doing, helps create the perfect conditions for inspiration to soar.

  1. Listen more

We know that personal interactions that include shaking hands and feeling listened to raise oxytocin levels and helps form empathetic bonds critical to collaboration and psychological wellbeing. While we may shake hands less now, thanks to the pandemic, in your next one-on-one interaction, try talking less and listening more. Listen for what the other person truly cares about, make eye contact and smile, and prompt for how they feel, letting them know the specific ways you appreciate their thoughts, perspective and insights.  Ask open ended questions to encourage sharing. Listen more. Talk less.

  1. Social projects

Increasingly, companies are actively supporting social projects and causes that are meaningful to their customers, suppliers and employees. Consider enrolling your team or department to adopt a social project like supporting the under-privileged or educating children. The key point here is that employees feel united around a common goal to bring about social change that is meaningful and requires coming together to help a cause or community that they care about.

In our next blog we’ll look at simple ways to encourage independent thinking to boost inspiration.

* De Dreu et. al  ‘Oxytocin enables novelty seeking and creative performance through upregulated approach: evidence and avenues for future research’, Epub 2015 Jun 22.

** Brockington et al. ‘Storytelling increases oxytocin and positive emotions and decreases cortisol and pain in hospitalized children’, PNAS Vol. 118 | No. 22