What is empathy? If I have to describe it in a selected choice of words, I would say it is the ‘ability to understand and share others’ feelings by stepping in their shoes.’ Many people fail to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Although both acts have their established positions in society, they play quite different roles in effective leadership practices.
While sympathy is necessary for evaluating what the other person is going through, it can hinder one’s ability to be efficaciously productive. It only allows you to welcome the feeling of sorrow and then act accordingly. Empathy, on the other hand, is reasonably more related to leadership development skills, evoking acceptance rather than pity.
According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, empathy is one of the five key elements of Emotional Intelligence, also known as Emotional Quotient (EQ). It is a consideration of managing your emotions positively to alleviate stress and overcome challenges, defusing all kinds of conflicts.
We need to understand this as a society that ‘to feel for someone’ and ‘to form a bond’ are significantly distinct concepts. Maya Angelou, the well-known American poet, and civil rights activist, once said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did. They will remember how you made them feel!” In other words, quality interactions are not just about being able to voice your opinions; they are about creating a lasting impact on one’s life.
Empathy in leadership can be of three distinct types, cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and compassionate empathy. To implement these empathies in daily life interactions, you need to make it a consistent force of habit to listen more attentively while regularly asking for your employees’ perspectives.
This type of empathy does not involve emotional engagement. Consider handing out empathetic employee review reports to your team members on a bi-monthly basis. The comments in the report will help you appreciate and motivate your employees while providing them with instructions to improve their performances, where needed. It is a practical approach that inspires and empathizes simultaneously.
Emotional empathy is the capability to understand a person on a deeper level, fabricating a bond of trust between the manager and team members. You need to inaugurate emotional empathy in leadership when you are building teams and establishing genuine rapport.
The only caution you need to take while implementing this leadership development skill is to avoid taking in or giving out too many emotions and turning the act into sympathy. The key to preventing that from happening is to draw healthy and compassionate boundaries.
The last type of empathy, compassionate empathy, is of paramount importance in constructive leadership development practices. It allows you to show concern for other people and share their emotional pain. However, it also requires you to spontaneously respond to them by taking adequate actions to fix their issues. This type of empathy helps a leader to develop an employee’s full potential.
Effective leaders learn and make the best of all kinds of empathies to steer their team members effectively. Whether you are interacting with someone in person or a long-distance Zoom meeting, you can impact just one act of great kindness.
For instance, a few days back, I picked up my order from a McDonald’s counter when the employee told me optimistically, “In this crazy time, whether you drink this at home or work, I hope you enjoy your frappe!” She was wearing a face mask, but I could see it in her eyes that the comment was surprisingly genuine. She only had a few seconds of interaction with me but still tried to connect. Well, it worked! Her optimism and genuineness were felt and it stayed with me for the rest of the day. As a leader, connecting this way with your employees can have a big impact on their overall job satisfaction.
Moreover, it is a real-life example of empathy that needs to be adopted by everyone, leader or not, in their lives from day one. No matter where you are and no matter how much time you have with a person, make your interaction with them impactful. Use empathy to connect with them. You will make a lasting impression because of the way you made them feel.
At BP Dudley offer Emotional Intelligence assessments, workshops, and coaching. We can use Emotional Intelligence to help companies develop leaders, increase sales, and improve communication and productivity.