Empathy, the ability to relate to and share someone else’s emotions, thoughts or experiences, is the third pillar of emotional intelligence. It’s that elusive skill that allows us to “walk in someone else’s shoes”.
We all possess empathy to some degree – it’s why humans find watching movies so compelling. We vicariously experience the emotional journey of the characters on the screen. But empathy plays a more vital role in real life and not all leaders have a well-developed sense of empathy.
We previously wrote about empathy in the context of delivering great customer service:
Sympathy is rarely an ideal response to a customer’s problem. Instead, show empathy. Empathy allows to you be professional and caring at the same time. It also allows you to avoid becoming emotionally involved (like when you show sympathy).
Think about it this way: when you’re sympathetic, you simply feel badly for someone. Sympathy doesn’t communicate to a customer that you understand
WHY they feel the way they feel – it only allows you to communicate that you understand their problem. A typical response – “I’m sorry” – is insufficient to solve a customer’s problem. You must do more.
Leaders and manager who practice empathy in the workplace are better equipped to understand (and meet) their employees’ needs. It’s one of the traits that makes many women great leaders. Empathy also creates a more supportive environment where people feel valued and heard. You can learn more about why this is so important in my earlier article about leadership styles.
Putting your employees first can lead to happy employees. And, happy employees have been shown to be more creative, more productive and more likely to be retained.
But, don’t just take my word for it. A 2015 study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that higher empathy ratings from a leader’s subordinates regularly predicted higher performance reviews from the leader’s own boss. In other words, empathetic leaders create positive relationships with their employees and also garner accolades from their superiors. Everybody wins.
Fortunately, empathy is a skill that can be learned.
The Center for Creative Leadership suggests practicing active listening in order to strengthen your empathic ability. Here are a few guidelines for practicing active listening:
• Make listening your entire focus, (instead of waiting for your turn to speak).
• Ask questions to help you understand the other person’s perspective.
• Don’t judge what the person is saying.
• Summarize what you think they’ve shared with you.
This exercise helps you to truly understand another person’s perspective. And, that’s the first step toward empathy.
Another technique for strengthening empathy is to regularly try to see things from a different perspective. True empathy requires that we be able to see beyond our own experience. The Center for Creative Leadership recommends that managers make a habit of trying to see things from their employee’s perspective.
If you find it hard to imagine what that perspective might be, maybe it’s time for some more active listening.
How to Embrace Empathy:
• Practice active listening.
• Habitually look at the world from a different perspective

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