Empathy centers on other people’s feelings and is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy involves feeling concerned for someone whereas empathy goes a step further. According to Roman Krznaric, empathy is “the art of imaginatively stepping into the shoes of another person, understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.”
Empathy is the ability to sense the feelings of others and show concern towards them. With empathy you can sense and pick up unspoken emotions. You listen to others attentively and understand their point of views, relating to what’s being felt and thought.
It is essential for leaders to have empathy as an empathetic leader can understand, relate to and be sensitive towards customers, employees as well as the community. Studies reveal that empathy is positively related to job performance. Indeed, leaders who take time and initiative to understand their employees can support them whenever required, motivating them to move ahead and face the challenges, helping them achieve their goals.
By being empathetic, leaders can build a level of trust with employees, leading to a strengthened relationship between them and improved collaboration and productivity. As a leader with empathy, your objective has to be to listen to your employees’ concerns and suggest them solutions. Here are the five ways to practice empathy and become a better leader.
1) Listening attentively
If you want to empathize with your employees, you have to listen to them attentively, completely focusing on them without getting distracted. Listen to them with your ears, eyes as well as heart. You have to pay attention to their body language, their tone of voice and hidden emotions behind their talking.
By being an active listener, you will be able to reflect the feelings expressed and summarize what you hear. Empathetic leaders spend more time listening than talking because they intend to understand the difficulties of their employees, making them feel that they are heard and recognized.
2) Understanding your employees
In order to effectively apply empathy in your organization, you have to understand your employees well. By listening to your employees’ words and reading their body language, you can understand what they are feeling and thinking. You need to put your viewpoint aside and try to see things from your employees’ point of view.
Try to find out what makes them tick and how they react and engage in different situations. Leaders not only have to be aware of what is going on in an individual’s mind but the collective minds of their teams.
3) Valuing your employees
Employees whose leaders value them and appreciate their work attempt to go over and above their expectations. Give genuine recognition to your employees, paying attention to what they are doing and especially noticing them when they do the right things to praise them.
You can ask your employees about what motivates them at work, what do they enjoy the most about work and what frustrates them in the organization. By making your employees feel valued, you can not only heighten your business performance but also increase your sales.
4) Giving solutions
As an empathetic leader, your objective should be to listen to your employees’ concerns, giving them solutions. You need to observe a problem objectively without any bias or judgement. You have to prescribe a solution based on their situation and needs, rather than how you feel about it.
By using empathy, you can better understand your employees and guide them in the right direction.
5) Being non-judgemental
When your employees talk to you or share their feelings with you, you should not judge them but understand them. Empathetic leaders are non-judgemental even when their feelings disagree with the feelings of others. You should appreciate what your employees feel and try to understand how those feelings impact their perception, without judging whether those feelings are right or wrong.
A leader who is empathetic can lead the team successfully, impacting the whole team’s performance. Demonstrating empathy can, however, be difficult as it takes time to gain an understanding of your employees. You can’t be sure about why employees think or feel the way they do about a situation. You need to be patient and put them ahead of yourself, which can be quite challenging in today’s competitive workplace. Try to naturally become curious about your employees to learn more about them and humanize them.
Empathetic leaders are an asset to organizations because they are able to effectively build and maintain relationships with their employees, which can contribute to the growth of the business. Try some of the suggestions listed above and watch the reactions of your employees. You should definitely notice positive results!