Show empathy for your team
January 21, 2020
The topic of developing empathy doesn’t come up very often in the business world, but it should. As a leader, it’s your job to create an empathetic environment where everyone feels valued.
Empathy—the ability to read and understand other’s emotions, needs, and thoughts—is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence and a critical leadership skill. It is what allows us to influence, inspire, and help people achieve their dreams and goals. Empathy enables us to connect with others in a real and meaningful way, which in turn makes us happier—and more effective—at work.
Many people mistakenly believe that empathy—like other emotional intelligence competencies—is something you’re born with or not. But it’s not that simple.
In fact, we all have the capacity for empathy. Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran’s studies have helped us understand that we have physical structures in our brains—called mirror neurons—that help us understand others’ experiences and feelings. When you walk into a meeting late where a heated discussion has been taking place and the hairs on your arms stand up, it’s not just that you’ve been able to read the body language in the room and recognized that a fight’s happening. Your mirror neurons are actually reflecting the feelings of the people present. You start feeling as they do—even though you just joined them and haven’t been involved in the fight.
We all know, though, that some people pick up clues well and others are clueless. They misread situations and tread on others’ feelings without awareness—or apology. Are they hopeless? Or, as people often ask me, is it possible to develop empathy? My answer is a resounding yes.
There’s no doubt that people want to feel appreciated and listened to at work. As a leader, it’s your job to create an empathetic environment where everyone feels valued.
Here are a few simple things you can do to show empathy for your team:
Experience a day in the life of your Team.
Sometimes it’s easy for leaders to stay “above” their teams. In fact, often a manager’s focus needs to be forward looking and strategic, rather than focusing on the day to day grind. Spend time with your team and step through their work with them.
Find out what challenges they have and what the roadblocks are. You will start to gain an understanding of their frustrations and motivations.
Observe, listen, and ask questions.
Stop assuming that you know what people are thinking and feeling — you probably don’t. There’s always more to learn if you’re quiet and curious.
Create Open Communication.
Open communication is critical for building empathy. When you team freely communicates issues, successes and challenges with you, you are better placed to understand their situation.
Challenge Your Biases.
We all have biases. Some of them are conscious biases, because we know we have them. Others are unconscious – we react automatically, without thinking.
Biases are built from our upbringing and experience. We can never eliminate them, so the next best thing is to be aware of them, so we can ensure they don’t affect our decision making.
Challenging your biases involves constant questioning of your perception of others with regard to aspects like race, gender, appearance, qualifications and age.
Our biases interfere with our ability to empathize.
If you’re writing an email to one person while talking with another, neither one is getting the best of you. Put your phone down and give your full attention to the person in front of you.
Don’t give in to distractions.
There’s always a deadline looming, a crisis to deal with, or an annoyance to put to rest. It’s important to slow down and take a step back from all of this stress. Practice mindfulness, and encourage your employees to do the same. Let them know it’s OK to take some time for themselves.
When has empathy helped you in the workplace? Or have you seen a situation where empathy was lacking? Tell your stories in the comments below!