Want To Create Trust And Inspire People Use Empathy
Want To Create Trust And Inspire People? Use Empathy.
Nov 04, 2020 5 min read

The very word 'empathy' seems out of place in a tough complex business environment that is focused on results. Leaders fear if they demonstrate empathy they may seem too soft and taken advantage of.

On the contrary, empathetic leaders inspire people to bring their best selves to work because they make people feel valued, cared for and understood. Daniel Goleman in his book Primal Leadership which is on emotional intelligence in leadership says "Empathy means taking employees feelings into thoughtful consideration and then making intelligent decisions that work those feelings into the Leaders response."

Our Understanding of Empathy

One of the most common understandings of empathy is "putting ourselves in someone else's shoes" to enable us to understand and share the feelings of another.

We consider ourselves empathetic when we respond to another individual in a difficult situation or crisis i.e. when hearing a painful story, irreparable loss, a broken relationship, people in distress etc. Accessing empathy in these situations is quite natural to us and the wonderful part of being human!

However, empathy is not limited to just being compassionate or sympathetic about another person's problems and offering solutions. When empathy is ingrained in a Leaders very nature it shows up in their daily behaviour, how they interact with people, their communication style, the way they make decisions that impact others and how they manage themselves.

Balanced empathy in the workplace is about 'Being' empathetic while still focused on results and productivity. When Leaders are empathetic they create trust in the organisation that in turn powers high productivity.

Start with Being Empathetic With Yourself

Having had the opportunity to conduct emotional intelligence assessments for Leaders has provided me with the insight that most Leaders lack empathy for themselves. Being under pressure to achieve results, means being hard on themselves and self-critical.

We can be empathetic with others, only when we understand what it means to be empathetic with ourselves. Self-empathy opens room for self-acceptance and tolerance for our failures. It enhances the feelings of well-being leading to a better sense of achievement and a positive presence.

Demonstrating Empathy in the Workplace

Here are four ways Leaders can demonstrate empathy to motivate and mobilize their people for better results.

Accepting Differences - Every individual comes with very personal experiences having faced unique challenges and earned their wisdom. Empathetic leaders embrace diversity and make space for a pool of varied thoughts and opinions. They give people their right to be heard, even if they disagree with them! When leaders allow individuals in their teams to express themselves, not only do they earn respect but also more receptivity to their ideas.

Listening with the intention of understanding - The quality of our listening determines the quality of our response. How do we listen to others? When listening to another person, having a clear intention to understand the individual, builds a connection with the person and strengthens the relationship. When Leaders listen to their teams with a genuine interest in what they are saying, they make the person feel valued. Empathetic leaders are able to pick up on what people are truly concerned about.

Catch People's emotions - Catching another person's emotion means we are able to identify another person's emotional state and respond accordingly. You can try this exercise to enhance your awareness levels. When you enter a room full of people, become aware of the emotional mood in the room. Do you feel the energy being low or high? Look around at the group, is your colleague looking quieter than her usual self and maybe a bit worried? If yes, don't hesitate to share what you noticed with her. She will appreciate your sensitivity and the opportunity to talk to someone!

An Empathetic Communication Style - The impact of words is very powerful and often we underestimate the fact, that they can create or break psychological safety in people. When Leaders insert empathetic phrases like 'I understand' or "I hear your concerns' they act like trust and safety boosters in language, making people feel psychologically safe around them.

Finally, some key questions we can ask ourselves are - In which instances do I find it easy to demonstrate empathy? In which situations do I find it hard to demonstrate empathy? Where do I see opportunities to develop my empathetic nature?

Recommended Books to build emotional intelligence in leadership - Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee


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