A formal definition of empathy is the ability to identify and understand another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. It’s the capacity to recognize the concerns other people have.
In a world where we tend to think of business in terms of the bottom line and financial metrics, the role of empathy in business might seem like an indulgence. But is it really an indulgence or is it imperative to have it in the workplace?
There is growing evidence that companies that have happy employees and empathetic leaders outperform their peers. Leadership is about making a positive difference and you cannot do that without empathy.
Some managers feel that when empathy is introduced in a business environment, it is a touchy-feely topic. They would rather pursue their goals without much thought for their employees. At its core, empathy is the oil that keeps business relationships running smoothly. It allows managers to create bonds of trust with their employees. It gives managers an insight into what someone else may be feeling or thinking. It helps managers understand how or why others are reacting to situations. Managers with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them, they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways. This doesn’t mean that managers with empathy agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, managers should thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings, along with other factors, in the process of making intelligent decisions.
Even if empathy does not come naturally to you as a manager, here are a few practical tips one might consider to develop this capacity:
Truly listen to your employees. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to their body language, to their tone of voice, and to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you. Focus on developing your understanding of what makes an employee unique.
Don’t dismiss an employee’s concerns offhand. Don’t rush to give advice. Don’t change the subject. Allow employees to have their moment.
Tune In To Non-Verbal Communication
This is the way that employees often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different.
Address your employees by their first names. Do your very best to remember the names of their spouse, partner and/or children so that you can refer to them by name. It shows your employee that you listen when they speak.
Be Fully Present
Don’t check your e-mail, look at your mobile phone, or take phone calls when an employee drops in your office to talk to you. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if your boss did that to you?
Give Genuine Recognition and Praise
Pay attention to what employees are doing and catch them doing the right things. When you give praise, spend a little effort to make your genuine words memorable. A couple of examples of this would be “you are an asset to this department because…” or “I would have totally missed that mistake if you hadn’t picked it out.”
Paraphrase and Reflect Back
When speaking to employees, managers should reflect back their interpretation of the employee’s statements and views to ensure they have understood them correctly. This shows that the Manager is really listening to what their employee is saying.
The door for empathy opens when managers suspend their disbeliefs and openly engage new ideas. Relationship-focused success expands capacity and potential, and empathy is a business skill that actually grows when practiced and shared. Although it may be unlike any other management practice you have ever used, empathy in the workplace creates and encourages sharing ideas, free from the fear of ridicule. Allowing everyone to contribute to a vision in a meaningful way is a much better management practice than sidelining someone for the sake of an imagined better outcome.