Empathy is essential if you want to be a good leader. What exactly does empathy mean and how can you develop that ability?
Empathetic Leadership isn’t Luxury, It is a Basic Requirement
Empathy is one of the most essential human (and any evolved lifeform) virtues that affects quality of life, individual and societal well-being. Furthermore, workplace empathy has a significant influence on (economic) performance.
Empathy is the foundation of human relationships and one of the most crucial fuels for effective cooperation. We may even claim that if we didn't have empathy, we'd live on a stone-cold planet.
What is Empathy?
To understand the importance of empathy, we must first define it.
Empathy means: the ability to be compassionate, which – according to Daniel Coleman- comprises self-knowledge and consciousness.
As a result, empathy is an emotional intelligence (EQ) talent that allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of another living person and live their experience as if it were our own. It is necessary for all life situations and relationships, therefore it is essential in the job. We should consider ourselves fortunate if we have the opportunity to work with an empathic boss and coworkers.
Given that compassion tends to elicit empathy in others around us, it is reasonable to conclude that empathy is the finest investment. However, you should be aware that empathy is not the same as compassion or altruism. Another common fallacy is that while we feel sympathetic to someone, we do not have to agree with them.
Types of Empathy
According to Coleman there are 3 kinds of empathy:
The Lack of Empathy Can Have Serious Consequences
We've said it before: empathy is important not only on an individual level but also on a communal level. A person who lacks empathy is easily identified: since they cannot put themselves in the shoes of another, they are entirely unaware of other people's issues or challenges.
They harshly criticize those around them when they lack empathy, which may lead to a slew of disputes. They have a difficult time making new acquaintances and forming new connections because of their high level of narcissism (they continually put themselves in the spotlight). In a nutshell, a person with little to no empathy operates with a singular concentration on oneself while neglecting their surroundings. Furthermore, if a leader is not compassionate enough, an organization's life might suffer from a variety of undesirable effects. For example, in the lack of a thorough and non-judgmental understanding, a poisonous non-trusting environment might emerge in which colleagues struggle to work together.
For example, a toxic non-trusting atmosphere might emerge in which collaborators struggle to work together; in the lack of a thorough and non-judgmental understanding, they do not trust each other or their superiors, motivation suffers, and fluctuation levels rise. Of course, this has ramifications for the firm on a larger scale: performance, income, efficiency, and profit.
Given that a company's culture is mostly created by its leader—as though they radiated it and conveyed it via their behavior—emotional intelligence and empathy are critical. Nobody is born at the pinnacle of empathy since the quality of this talent is mostly controlled by parental patterns: care, presence, and example. In a nutshell, socialization. This skill is very dependent on each individual, the spectrum is quite broad, and conduct may be influenced by one's present state of mind. As a result, everyone is sympathetic, although to different degrees. The good news is that empathy can be taught.
The Empathetic Leader and What They Can Offer
We do not want to exaggerate, but empathy is one of the most important skills of a leader, in absence of which, they can’t do their best, and neither can their team. Empathetic leaders have a good and continuously improving relationship with their coworkers. This kind of relationship gives the team a sense of security because they can be confident that they won’t be harshly and mercilessly reprimanded for their failure.
Empathy encourages leaders to learn to find and understand the reasons behind a good or a bad performance, as well as to help their coworkers who are having difficulties to improve, or with their lives.
An empathetic leader can achieve a very high level of compassion, thus having a better understanding of their team members’ (coworkers, business partners) real needs, and being capable of predicting others' reactions with more precision. Given that understanding others and putting themselves into other people’s shoes is one of the most important factors of empathy, an empathetic leader can motivate their team and fight negative attitudes and demotivation more efficiently.
Tricks: How to Improve Your Empathy?
Several arguments are in favor of empathetic leadership. Although there are many pieces of training meant to improve empathy, a few little changes on your own can achieve great results.
Here are a few tips that can help to improve your empathy:
1. Be Curious, Always
Of course, it is easier said than done, what if I am not curious? Good news! Everyone has got a little curiosity. Start from there and try to open up a little. You will find wonderful things. Important: It is not you in the spotlight!
Turn to people with curiosity, look for relationships with people who you barely know, and ask them about how they see the world, how their life is. Try to identify the subjects that make them happy, sad, etc.
Be open and listen to what other people have to say, independently from religious, ethnic, or political points of view. If you can, get to know new cultures, people, ways of thinking.
2. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Yes, we hear this one very often. But what does it mean? Look for things that are not in your comfort zone. New travel destinations, a new kind of cuisine, or practising on an instrument you don’t like. Experience voluntarily how it feels when something is hard or impossible for you. Accept the fact that you can be helpless and that sometimes it can be humiliating. Humility is just a step away from empathy.
3. Receive Feedback
Seize the opportunity and ask for feedback from your colleagues, friends, and family on yourself and on what you could improve about yourself.
In a work environment, you get feedback once a year. if you are lucky. Either as part of performance measurement or a worker satisfaction survey. You will be able to receive the feedback if you can go beyond refuting them instinctively. It is worth it, you better believe it!
4. Confront Your Subjectiveness
There are no unbiased people in this world, but subjectivity has a negative effect on empathy. Look for people with different ways of thinking and backgrounds than your own. Discuss the milestones they hit in their life, their life experiences. While identifying the similarities in your paths, you will have the possibility to discuss the differences without judgement. Accept the other person as they are.
5. Put Yourself in Another Person’s Shoes
Spend energy on understanding the situation the other person is in. Learn about how they live, work, what makes them happy, what their goals and dreams are. There probably are people around you to whom you are only loosely connected; it is time to get to know them better.
6. Listen Actively and Speak Respectfully
An empathetic person listens actively and doesn’t interrupt their counterpart. They are open to new approaches that are different from their own. They are capable of apologizing when they hurt somebody. Ask about the reason behind everything, try to understand the reasons of the other person.
Empathy is a determining factor in human relations, good teamwork, and organizational efficiency. An empathetic leader is essential for building a good and efficient company, his absence affects the company on all levels. Empathy can be developed step by step.