So much has already been written about being, having, using emapathy in leadership. So why another viewpoint? Because it’s just that important. If you write or blog at all about leadership, I am sure you are empathetic to this situation. 🙂
It has been said that there are two parts of empathy: Skill (tip of the iceberg) and Attitude (mass of the iceberg). Dr. Daniel Goleman isolates three reasons for why empathy is so important: 1) the increasing use of teams, 2) the rapid pace of globalization (with cross cultural communication easily leading to misunderstandings) and 3) the growing need to retain talent. “Leaders with empathy,” states Goleman, “do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways. This doesn’t mean that they agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, they “thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”
Empathy is appreciating the inner state of others. Notice I said appreciating, not knowing or feeling. You don’t have to have the same experience as someone else to appreciate how they feel (or how they think, or perceive, or expect). I have never jumped out of a plane, but I certainly can appreciate the fear one must feel the first time they make the leap to skydive. We often associate empathy with a sensing of others’ feelings, but because feelings are only part of our inner state, empathy is much more than appreciation of feelings. Feelings are just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much more that is unseen.
I was raised by a single mother. She had to deal with the passing of her husband, six children, and all the incredible heartache, stress and pressure that faced her daily. I am sure she was angry, scared, lost. She was tough on us, and rightfully so and completely understandable. She was a master at tough empathy. Tough empathy means giving people what they need, which is not always what they want. It balances respect for the individual and the task at hand and when times are challenging, attending to both can be difficult.
So how do you accomplish it with people you may not have been very empathetic too previously? First and foremost,empathy will also require you to get past rationalizations and admit wrongdoing. We’ve all been less than understanding so you’re certainly not alone. But getting to the next level may require some apologies. Next, try to imagine what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes. How do they feel? What might they think? How may they react? Third, LISTEN!!! Don’t try to frame your response while they are speaking, don’t nod your head as if you already know what they are going to say before they say…just be still and be there, do not interrupt.
Indeed, empathy is valued currency. It allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and informs our decisions. It’s admirable when we put ourselve in other people’s shoes and the payoff is, when other’s put you in their hearts.