Many people define empathy as the ability to step into someone else’s shoes. However as a leader, it’s more than that. It is the things you do and say daily that gives you the power to inspire others, create a culture of trust, and foster an environment where employees are happy and feel valued. As an added bonus, empathy in the workplace can also make all the difference in the world in terms of both employee engagement and retention. As Laurie Norden, author of The Empathetic Leader, explains:
“Leaders who have empathy-based skills can positively impact the emotions, attitudes and behaviors of others more effectively than others who do not.” Empathy skills help leaders see issues from other people’s perspectives. They increase their sensitivity to how their decisions affect others and make them more open-minded about new ways of doing things. So what are some effective strategies for becoming a more empathetic leader?
Spend time with employees
There’s a reason why you’re reading this article — to become more empathetic. But what does it mean to be more empathetic? It means to be able to put aside your own experiences, even if momentarily, and step into the other person’s to fully understand them before moving forward. One of the most important ways to begin to be able to do this is to spend time with employees, listening and learning about their lives. For example, if you want to know what it’s like working on your team, stop by their desk rather than sending an email or a text message. Then spend time with them during lunchtime to learn about their thoughts and feelings on work. This will not only help you better understand how they feel about their work, but it will also provide insight into how work makes you feel. It is important for leaders at all levels of an organization to invest in the people who are committed to your company, so take the time to do this often and genuinely.
Be a reflective practitioner
Being a reflective practitioner in the workplace is an important leadership skill. The idea of being a reflective practitioner is that you’re constantly taking into account others’ point of view before making decisions. As a leader, you can use this as an opportunity to stay informed about your employees and their needs. You also might consider using this strategy to increase your levels of creativity and innovation.
The first step to becoming a more empathetic leader at work is by considering everyone’s point of view before making decisions. To do this, use these 5 tactics:
#1: Make time for feedback
#2: Listen to understand the other person’s thoughts AND feelings
#3: Ensure conversations are two way
#4: Celebrate success with others
And #5: Be open to new ideas.
Teach by helping others
To teach by helping others you must be able to see things from their point of view. So, whether it’s a new team member or an employee with whom you work closely, find out what they want and need. Let them know that you care about them and are there for them. Ask about their goals and aspirations. Then help them achieve those goals. This type of leadership will not only help your team members perform better at their jobs, but it will also make your employees feel more valued too!
One way to create a culture of trust is by being open-minded about new ways of doing things. Another way to foster an environment where employees are happy and feel valued is by giving feedback constructively. When giving feedback try not to focus on the negative aspects of something but instead share the positive qualities as well. As Norden says, “one can worry less about creating negativity in the workplace when one knows that there is no question that it will be met with compassion and understanding.”
Be willing to be wrong
Being a leader who is empathetic means being willing to admit when you are wrong. If you have empathy-based skills, you can consider that other people might be right, even if your perspective is different. This is challenging for leaders because so much of leadership boils down to being in the “right” place at the “right” time. But if you want to be an effective leader and reach others effectively, that’s not always going to happen. You must realize that some people will disagree with you, and be willing to hold back on your own judgment until you’ve heard what they have to say. You should also be willing to change your opinions if someone else offers a new idea or perspective that proves valuable or important.
Look for the good in people
Empathy-based leadership skills include the ability to look for the good in other people, to see things through their eyes, and to be able to place yourself in a person’s situation. This means that leaders with empathy-based skills can better see their own blind spots and mistakes, too. Acknowledging these strengths helps allow your employees to feel more comfortable and have more trust in you as a leader.
Other ways to be a more empathetic leader at work are to ask questions and listen carefully. When you ask questions, you create an opportunity for people to give feedback that may help you make better decisions. For example, you might ask people what they think about a new product idea or whether they would like to see any changes made. You can also ask them how they would like the idea presented or what content should be included in it. Listening actively helps you understand others’ perspectives so that you can best manage their emotions and responses accordingly during difficult conversations or situations.
Create an environment where people feel valued and respected
Another effective way of being an empathetic leader is by creating an environment where people feel valued and respected at work. At work, there are moments when many employees will feel frustrated or angry because of something going on internally or externally with the company. When this happens, it is important for leaders with empathy-based skills to take time out of their day or week for listening sessions with team members who are feeling frustrated or upset about something specific happening at work.
Ask more challenging questions
It’s difficult to ask questions without thinking about how you’re going to be perceived, or what the consequences might be. You might think you don’t have any control over your reputation, and therefore shouldn’t care. But being too cautious could lead to a lack of curiosity and a limitation of growth. If you want to start getting more comfortable asking challenging questions, try telling yourself that it’s not about what others might say — it’s about the information you’ll get from the conversation.