With conversations on burnout and employee retention top of mind for many leaders, we wanted to share with you a piece by our dear friend, Patrizia Rothenberger, on the importance and impact of empathy. In this article, Pat beautifully explains this key component of our daily interactions and, even more importantly, highlights how to “do” empathy right. Read on for insight on what it means to really listen, care, and practice honesty. All crucial pieces of effective leadership – and good relationships. Thank you, Pat!
We are keen to hear your comments, as always.
Empathy 101: Why Should Leaders or Anyone Care?
By: Patrizia Rothenberger ACC, ECPC
The words EMPATHY and empathetic leadership are gaining more traction as essential components of high performing organizations. What does it mean for employees, leaders, and organizations? Does it really matter and why should they or we care?
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s experience, feelings, and point of view. As a leadership style, empathetic leaders draw on empathy to understand their team’s or people’s situations, as well as what they are going through so they can offer support and help. Interactions based on empathy, can build trust, encourage honesty, and deepen connections between people. However, there is a subtle nuance here; empathy is about the ability to comprehend other people’s situation and not how you would feel or react in their situation.
Why it matters
Empathy matters because people are not robots and what works to motivate one person is not what is going to work with someone else. Organizations, teams, employees, or people in general are individual human beings with unique needs, wants, feelings, and motivations. In other words, no one person is the same as another and as such no one person will respond in the same way as anyone else to situations, demands, or stress.
Why we should care
Empathy can make the difference between so-so or good results and great results at work. Simply put, showing empathy toward those we lead or work with can start us all on the road of understanding each other better. Understanding what drives us, challenges us, and motivates us can deepen our connections to one another and open the gateway to better, happier, effective, and more productive work (and personal) lives. If you develop and show empathy for everyone involved in your organization and teams, and you’ll likely have leaders and a workforce that feels valued, included, and driven to help you and your organization succeed.
There is good news! Empathy can be developed and practiced. Whether empathy comes naturally to you and or it’s miles out of your comfort zone, there are a few easy foundational best practices that everyone can immediately start employing and potentially reap big benefits.
Three Basic Steps to Developing your Empathy:
Step 1 Listening: This is not a revolutionary concept. Real listening happens with more than just our ears. When we really pay attention to what someone else is saying to us, we listen with our mind, heart, and gut. What is the person really saying? What are they really feeling? What is really going through their mind? If you don’t know, ask!
Step 2 Stay Curious and Really Care: Ask questions. Be interested in what the other person is saying. Assume positive intentions; you’ll probably be right about 90% of the time. They could offer up important information that could impact the rest of the team or even the organization. If possible, avoid “Why” questions, which can put people on the defensive or make them feel judged. Try “What” or “How” instead. Some examples, “What can you tell me….” What else?”
Step 3 Honesty and Transparency: We can’t expect honesty and transparency from others if we don’t practice it ourselves. This doesn’t mean unloading all your fears or gripes about something on the other person but remain honest about what is in your power to do or not in your power to do about a situation.
Empathy is an essential piece of any leader’s toolbox. Used appropriately and most importantly sincerely when talking to or coaching others, it is the springboard to more productivity, creativity, harmony, employee retention and better performance in the workplace. One of my favorite thought leaders, Simon Sinek says:
“We must all try to empathize before we criticize. Ask someone what’s wrong before telling them they are wrong.”
Imagine the problems or challenges that could be solved with that simple concept!
Empathy can offer up those tiny breadcrumbs of information that lead to a world of understanding and learning about the people we work with and they with you.
If you would like a conversation about this or ways that I can help you or your organization, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.linkedin.com/in/pat-rothenberger, or email@example.com