Empathy in leadership. An empathic person is an individual that most people want to follow. Such quality is essential for people to trust and believe in you. Empathetic leaders lead better. They manage their work faster. They are stronger because they can put themselves in other people’s shoes. You serve as an instrument of your own inspiration.
According to Goleman, the writer of the famous book ‘ “Emotional intelligence”, empathy—one of the basic components of emotional intelligence—is a critical part of social awareness, and, as such, key to success in life.
In this article, we give you some tips to have more empathy as a leader and to take advantage of this ability to develop new skills in the workplace.
What is empathy in leadership?
Empathy is a requirement for compassion.
It implies ending suffering. In addition, it is one requirement of emotional intelligence and it relates to understanding, support, and active listening.
In this sense, the empathic person can sense someone else’s feelings.
An empathetic person knows how others feel. As a result, they know how to talk to them.
They understand them. That’s why empathetic leaders have impressive leadership skills.
Characteristics of an empathic person
To be an empathetic person, you must meet a series of characteristics:
1. Feeling what others feel
Empathic people are sensitive and understand the feelings of others. However, this can backfire. What happens is they feel compelled to be involved with others’ issues, even when the conflict is not about them.
2. They listen
Leaders listen actively and not just to what people are saying; they focus on what the other person is saying and feeling to give responses accordingly.
3. Leaders are not extremists
They do not believe that everything is black or white. They know that there is a nice range of gray in between. For example, when a conflict arises, they do not position themselves easily. They find intermediate answers.
4. They are respectful and tolerant
Empathic people respect the decisions of others, even if they did not make those same decisions. For example, Maria and Juan are siblings.
Juan has been angry with his parents because they have not supported him in one of the most important moments of his life. Although María would not have acted the same way, she respects Juan, is empathetic, understands the situation, and offers him support.
5. Understand non-verbal communication
They look at both verbal and non-verbal language. They attend to gestures, looks, inflections and tones of the voice, etc. With that, they understand the verbal message but extract the emotional message that the non-verbal language contains.
6. Believe in the goodness of people
When empathetic people meet someone, even if they have a “poor reputation,” they assume they are good until proven otherwise. They believe people are good by nature.
7. Leaders have a passive communication style
Sometimes, trying to understand others can cause them to set aside their own interests and rights. For example, with María, she is empathetic and supports her brother, even if it means having a conflict with her parents.
8. They speak carefully
Always measure their words because they know they can hurt the other person depending on how they say things. They try to be careful and express themselves with tact while having the least negative impact.
9. Leaders understand each person is different
They understand each person has needs and that we are all different. They know how to treat each person according to their circumstances.
The value and benefits of empathy in leadership
The benefits of being an empathetic leader are many. Let’s break them down, shall we?
Empathy helps you…
Feel better about yourself.
Develop social skills.
Have respect for other people.
Connect you with other people.
Raise our own self-esteem.
Not judge others and encourage emotional development.
Develop emotional intelligence.
How to be an empathetic leader
Empathy in leadership takes work. However, anyone can learn to be empathetic as long as they want to. Give yourself the time to do it and you will be the empathetic leader you know you can be.
“Fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait. It can be learned”. Shapiro, 2002
You can learn to be empathetic today. Empathy is attainable. You can develop it even if you think you can’t. You need to put in work, time, and energy. If you’re in a position of leadership or authority, empathy is an exceptional skill to have.
You can improve it through coaching and training. Or you can talk to your peers and understand their individual situations and conditions.
6 ways to develop empathy:
1- Stop listening for 5 minutes and look at other things.
Don’t just hear people talk; truly listen to what they have to say. Open your eyes and ears, and listen with your heart. Look at their body language. Listen to how they’re feeling. Put yourself in their shoes while you’re at it. Don’t think about what you’re going to say next. In fact, you don’t have to say anything. Take the time to truly listen and understand where they’re coming from. Sometimes, listening says more about you than speaking. A true, empathetic leader knows how to listen more than anything.
2- Avoid interrupting others
Allow people to express themselves however they want to do it without interruptions. Not we say to each other needs a solution. Sometimes the person talking to you just wants to be heard. They want to voice their frustrations, which is a sign of trust. Cutting them off will worsen the situation. People want to be understood, so the best way to do that is to listen without interrupting them.
3- Be present
This, again, means listening to others and almost living vicariously through them. The primary focus should solely be on them. Avoid looking at your watch or other distractions that might ruin your interactions.
4- Don’t judge
You’ll often find people who have different perspectives than you, which is normal. When you’re a leader, empathy means dropping your biases. If you’re biased, that’ll only create tension. As a result, it’ll make others uncomfortable. Avoid saying, “Your problem is that…”. If others see you don’t understand them, they will feel trapped and will thus avoid opening up to you. If they think you are going to lecture them, they will close.
5- Set the right body language
Make sure you look interested in what others have to say. You don’t want to come across as bored or tired. People can tell when you are uninterested. Your nonverbal communication says a lot about a person. Empathetic leaders are aware of this.
6- Show you care about others
Be genuinely curious about the lives of those who work with you. If you ask questions about their conditions, families, and challenges, that leaves a good impression on people. Building personal relationships with your peers will help you more become more empathetic. There is no harm in that. Ask questions like “How are you?”. Offer others your full attention. Don’t do it out of courtesy. Do it because you care.
In short, empathy is the ability that people can have to put themselves in the shoes of others. It relates to support, compression, and active listening. Empathic people know how to listen. They are sensitive, tolerant, etc. In addition, being empathetic has many benefits, such as increasing self-esteem or emotional development.
Employees don’t feel comfortable with their bosses or superiors when they lack empathy. Facts.
They will always have a guard up when they’re around them. If, however, your leader is empathetic, it’s a much healthier environment and work culture to work in. You feel and work better when you know you can be open; when you know you’re not judged; when you know your voice matters.
Empathy in leadership is important because it makes work better. Empathy can be trained and developed through active listening, respect, and a series of activities and guidelines.