I’ve been asked quite a few questions lately about how do you actually lead with empathy. There’s no wrong or right way to do this. You can read books, you can learn about emotional intelligence and compassion and empathy, and all these other words for it. But here’s the number one tip that I teach folks:

Enter every business conversation or decision as a human first.

In business school, we don’t take classes on psychology, compassion, human interaction or the philosophy of interaction or any of those things. We may take philosophy of selling, psychology of selling or things like that. But we don’t actually talk about how to manage people as human beings or how to interact with people as human beings. So I only really have one tip on it and it’s to enter every interaction as a human.

What this looks like for me in my life is knowing my staff member and my colleagues partner’s names and perhaps their children’s names. I really to know their children’s birthdays and send something to the kids for their birthday. The reality is, these children’s parents are likely missing some events in their children’s lives because of work. So really reaching out when there’s some special day for that kid has made a huge impact.

A lot of this is going to be based off of the boundaries that your staff members and your colleagues set. They may not feel comfortable sharing that information with you. That’s totally fine. If I don’t know the kid’s name, I’ll still know that they have a child I’ll check in how are they doing. What are their interests right now? What are you looking forward to with them? Those kinds of things.

But here’s the thing. You already know how to lead with empathy because you do it in times of trauma. When someone’s parent family member important person in their life falls ill, you lead with empathy because your first words, “I’m so sorry to hear that”. Hopefully your second words are:

“How can we help?”

“How can I show up for you?”

“How can we take something off your plate?”

This knee jerk language is proof that you already know how to implement empathy. You’re just falling on it when there’s something that’s going wrong.

For me, leading with empathy is taking that skillset that you already have and transferring it into daily interactions. So when someone walks into your office, if I know that I need to have a hour long conversation, I better reschedule it an hour and 15 minutes so that I can lead that meeting with a, “how are you?”

This means the conversation that we enter into for business is predicated on the fact that we have this relationship, human to human. It let’s my employees know I truly support them.

If you don’t have the extra time to spare to check in right then, I advise you start by saying something like

“Hey, I know we really got to jump into this because we have so much on our plate to get through in a short amount of time. But I did want to check how’s this one thing in your life.”

There will be times when you forget to lead the meeting with empathy, that’s totally fine. Check in at the end of the meeting. The same guidelines apply.

Like I said, you already know how to do this. We just need to work on implementing it into daily life as well as in times of emergency.