5 Steps to Empathy and the Benefits It Offers

Empathy is an important skill in leadership and management. It can help you to be better in your role as a leader. Empathy in the workplace can lead to better business decisions, cohesion, and loyalty – and help you lead through a crisis with participative leadership

A manager who demonstrates empathy tends to connect more easily with their team members on a deeper level. They also understand what motivates people, which allows them to create the work environment needed for people’s happiness and help teams to see opportunities, not challenges.

What exactly is empathy? What are the benefits of utilizing empathy skills? How can you become a more empathetic leader?

The main traits of empathetic leaders

Being an empathetic leader means being able to understand others’ emotions, feeling their pain, and being able to listen without judgment. It’s about being selfless and putting others before yourself so that they feel valued. Leaders need empathy so that they can care for their employees and clients, while simultaneously leading by example with their own values of empathy.

There are some easily recognizable characteristics of empathetic leaders, which include:

Practicing self-control

To be an effective leader, it is important that you know how to practice self-control. You must be able to control your emotions to control the emotions of others to lead effectively – and this begins with a high level of self-awareness. What does this mean? In a nutshell, understanding why you react how you do in different situations, and then using this knowledge to react intentionally.

Communicating effectively

Advanced communication skills help leaders to understand the people who work for them better and make a positive impact on their teams. They communicate clearly – both verbally and non-verbally – keep everyone on board, and understand the needs of their team.

Empathetic leaders listen to what others are saying and take cues to provide feedback without making judgments. They avoid interrupting others and instead encourage their interlocutors to share their thoughts. 

Setting clear boundaries

Being a leader is a tough job. The role requires the leader to be a visionary, a motivator, and a tactician all at the same time. It also requires the setting of boundaries for their team to be effective. Empathetic leaders accomplish this without making their employees feel bad about their contributions or taking away from what they want for themselves. 

Staying open to new ideas

Empathetic leaders stay open to new ideas from their employees. This openness creates a positive working environment in which employees feel safe, which is good for morale and productivity.

Benefits of empathetic leadership

Many theories have emerged about the importance of empathy in leadership, but one of the most widely accepted reasons is that building and maintaining relationships increases motivation – it makes people want to achieve more for others. 

Here are three benefits directly related to leaders displaying empathy:

  1. Improvement in productivity

Empathetic leaders experience increased productivity and success because they understand their team members and the challenges they face. They provide clarity and help them get ahead of obstacles that may hinder progress. This boosts individual and team morale, encouraging people to work harder and smarter and being innovative in how they work – and this results in improved productivity.

  1. Greater collaboration

Empathetic leaders are more likely to have a positive impact on the work culture in their organization.

Displaying empathy helps to build mutual understanding. In turn, this helps to create better connections and an environment in which people feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas. This can trigger greater innovation and collaboration, between team members and between teams.

  1. Boosts organizational growth

Organizations which have empathetic leaders often see greater organizational growth than those with less empathetic leaders. Employees who feel inspired are motivated to work harder toward individual and collective goals – and that’s great for team morale, relationships at work, personal development, and business growth.

How to become a more empathetic leader

Leadership is about motivating, inspiring, and leading people to action through emotional connection. 

Clearly, empathy is an important skill for a leader. One way to be an empathetic leader is by being genuinely interested in the people who are around you. Another way to be an empathetic leader is through looking into your own feelings and that of your employees.

Here are five things you can start doing immediately to improve your empathy skills.

  1. Be a better listener

Listening attentively is one of the most important skills for a leader. It helps you build relationships with the people around you and understand their pain points better. However, listening properly is a difficult task because we often just hear the words and not the feelings behind them.

To be a better listener, you must learn to pay attention and focus on the speaker – not only what they are saying, but their body language, too.

There are many strategies to help you listen better: listen to people with full attention, take notes during conversations so you can go back and reflect on them later, practice active listening, filter out distractions by using your environment, etc. To start:

  1. Pay attention to what others say: People tend to ramble on when they’re nervous and talking about their problems, but you might learn a lot more if you just listen closely enough to understand what they’re saying.

  2. Pause for a moment before responding: You should take a moment before responding so you can think about your response and find the best words for your interlocutor.

  3. Be careful not to tell people how they should feel, which can make them feel worse: This is very important because people often react negatively.

Listening attentively is a skill that not many of us have. Paying attention takes a lot of effort. These three actions are the core of successful listening.

  1. Practice self-awareness 

There are many ways you can practice empathy as a leader, but you need to start by getting comfortable with your own feelings as an individual. This way, you’ll be able to better guide those around you through difficult moments and help them feel more at home in the workplace.

Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. The way to practice self-awareness is by deepening your understanding of your emotions and how they affect the world. 

One way you might do this is by journaling your thoughts, feelings, and actions in different situations. Then reflect on what happened and how you reacted, and the outcomes your reactions caused. Think about how a different reaction by you might deliver a different, more positive outcome. When you are in a similar situation again, be deliberate to react positively related to job requirements.

  1. Establish a bond with your team 

It can be challenging to develop empathy in the workplace, but if you want to become a better leader, it’s important that you start by establishing bonds with your team.

As I’ve explained here, empathy is about understanding, sharing, and caring about the feelings, needs, and desires of others without having to experience these things in person. It is also about building relationships that are based on mutual respect.

Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. A leader who shows their vulnerability demonstrates empathy with their team. It’s this softer side of leadership that often creates unbreakable bonds between managers and their teams.

  1. Be willing to recognize different perspectives

The traditional view of leadership sees the leader as having complete control over everything. The problem with this is that it ignores other perspectives and does not allow for others to contribute meaningfully. 

To become an effective leader, you must be open-minded. You must be willing to explore different perspectives and opinions. You must be willing to understand the needs of your team and how they view the world. You see, while being a leader is not about being perfect or without flaws, it is about understanding people and their different perspectives.

This can be learned by:

  • Being aware of your own biases and assumptions

  • Recognizing how your own opinions may affect your decisions

  • Identifying what motivates people in the work environment

  • Acknowledging that everyone is different

  • Being open-minded about learning more

Recognizing, listening to, and acting upon other perspectives can help you create the team harmony needed to create bigger and better.

  1. Practice kindness

Kindness is something that every leader should strive for. It will make you more likeable and effective in your position, but kindness does not come easily. However, with time and effort, anyone can be more empathetic by practicing kindness with people around them.

When you are empathetic, you can understand a situation before diving into action. You also have a better understanding of what your team members are going through and how they can help make things better for them. This will help you act with more humility and humbleness, and with greater kindness toward your team.

Embrace discomfort to be empathetic as a leader

Empathetic leadership is the ability to empathize with your team members and their challenges. It helps you stay connected with your team members by understanding their emotions, which in turn helps you become a more effective leader.

Being empathetic naturally requires you to embrace discomfort. It requires you to learn more about yourself and others, and put yourself in uncomfortable situations to connect on an emotional level with your team.

Remember, when we are uncomfortable, it often means that there is something we need to take action on. And it is action that gets leaders viewed as better performers.

Would you like to hear more about leadership? To book me for entrepreneurial coaching or for a speaking event, please get in touch.

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