In almost every interview, every interaction with the leaders, every webinar or conference you attend on leadership, which is the buzzword you hear the most these days? For me, it has been: EMPATHY.
Several reports have indicated that empathy is one of the most in demand skills at present among leaders and professionals across sectors. In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, empathy as a skill and as a competency took center stage and became a pillar that leaders must hold on to for better employee experience and for business continuity.
But what is empathy? Does it come naturally? Can leaders improve their empathy quotient?
Dr. Helen Riess, in her book based on neuroscience, “The Empathy Effect”, establishes that empathy isn’t only innate, but also a skill we should all develop and enhance. But how?
Here are some tips:
Empathy begins with knowing yourself and your colleagues
Some people say, empathy is getting into the shoes of another. But how will you get into the shoes of your peers and team, if you don’t even know what shoes they wear? Wait! Let me simplify. What I am trying to say is that it is critical to understand the unique traits of everyone in the organization. One, everyone responds to change or crisis differently. Two, everyone is at a different stage of their lives. They have their unique challenges. You have a diverse workforce, you must acknowledge that, learn more about them, and lead accordingly.
In fact, with more awareness about yourself and others, you will not only be able to identify the differences but most importantly find similarities. As Riess says, “We are all connected on a neurobiological level far more than we have previously realized. Consciously or not, we are in constant, natural resonance with one another’s feelings. When we are engaged in shared mind awareness, the possibilities for mutual aid and collaborative problem solving abound.”
With better awareness about others, we are in a better place to understand how they may be responding to a similar situation differently and help them accordingly. Building more awareness is now possible thanks to the plethora of scientific tools and innovative data-driven technologies available in the market. For instance, Insights Discovery help employees and leaders better understand themselves and each other.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
It’s the most traditional and effective way to practice empathy. Prevalent even before the tech revolution, listening helps you truly understand the other person’s perspective. For leaders, this means having regular conversations with their employees to know how they are doing, and no, not like a tick in the box activity.
Listen to truly understand and not immediately respond. Dev Patnaik, a leading business strategist, insists people are wired to care. All they need is a push from themselves to practice that care, lend that listening ear, and observe to later action the solution.
Strict vs. Compassionate
Unfortunately, inspired by the movie, Devil Wears Prada, maybe, many leaders believe they need to be mean to be effective. Ultimately, their lack of compassion creates negative relationships, impacting performance and also profits. No, your employees don’t like to be screamed at. No, they don’t like your sarcastic comments. Instead, they will love to know from you: where they went wrong and how they can improve.
It is the helping attitude of leaders and everyone else that will help the team thrive overall. People must be more compassionate towards one another, acknowledge we all have flaws, and guide each other through the tough times. Especially, in the wake of the current global health crisis, employees and leaders have to be more supportive, and work along and not against.
Leaders feel that they can’t be vulnerable. They can’t look weak. They should have all the right answers. But that’s old news. It is 2020 and the millenials preach and practice transparency. Empathy requires you to keep out of the bubble and accept that you like others can also struggle at something. By accepting your own reality, you are better equipped to understand others as well.
The vulnerability makes humans more empathetic as then, they are able to draw similarities and relate to others.
“Empathy is a choice,” says research professor Brené Brown, “and it’s a vulnerable choice. In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
So practice empathy, nurture that skill, build the empathy muscle, as it’s needed for a better experience, more productivity, increased business profits, and most importantly, a much better world.
Harness your empathy quotient, with more self-awareness. Click here to learn more.