We’ve all experienced a manager that just doesn’t get along with their team. Or seen a supervisor who shuts themselves off from their colleagues and doesn’t take the time to understand the employees working under them. What were these leaders missing?
The key to not becoming that type of leader is putting to use a basic human quality: empathy.
Using empathy as a leadership tool helps us put ourselves in the shoes of our colleagues or employees. When you are an empathetic leader, you understand how other people’s feelings can impact their perception of a situation.
Why is demonstrating empathy important?
Using empathy as a leadership tool helps:
- Build trust with your employees or team
- Strengthen relationships
- Increase collaboration
- Encourage others to do their best and be more productive
- Create more engaged employees
While empathy is commonly mistaken for its cousin, sympathy, a crucial part in becoming an effective leader is differentiating between the two traits. Empathy requires a deeper, longer lasting commitment than simply feeling sorry for a coworker.
For example: Imagine a coworker has just lost someone very close to them. It’s human nature to feel sympathetic towards this person but it takes an extra step to become empathetic. This involves putting yourself in your coworkers’ position and remembering how it felt when you were in a similar situation, or how you might feel if the same thing happened to you. When this is achieved, we become more understanding of how this situation can affect a person’s professional and personal life.
So how can you demonstrate more empathy?
Be Present in the Moment
With technology at our fingertips 24/7, it’s a constant struggle to put down the phone and pay attention to what’s happening in front of us. You’ll gain respect by turning off your email, tablet or phone to focus on the person right in front of you.
Maintain Eye Contact and Pay Attention to Body Language
These methods show you are completely attentive to the person in front of you. Great communicators are constantly tracking people’s reactions to their message. They are quick to pick up on cues like facial expressions and body language because they know this is the only feedback many people will give them. Great communicators also use this expertise to tailor their message on the fly and adjust their communication style as needed.
Remember: listening and hearing are not the same. Use active listening to focus on the other person’s perspective.
It also helps to repeat back what the other person has said to prove you were diligently listening. Repeat core concepts and clarify when you’re not sure of the meaning of something. This will help people to feel respected and valued by your attentiveness.
Don’t Judge Others
It’s easy to assume, but being an empathetic leader can help you step back and analyze the situation before jumping to conclusions. Give the person the benefit of the doubt and put yourself in their shoes to understand why they may be acting in such a way.
The return from becoming a more empathetic leader will be more respect, communication and engagement from your team. By focusing on others and being present in the moment, you’ll be helping your colleagues find more comfort in their work environment, which will ultimately make your job more enjoyable.