Empathy is an Emotional Intelligence (EI) competency. Many people confuse empathy with sympathy as in a feeling of pity or sorrow for the distress of another. Empathy, however, as explained in most definitions, is having the capacity to place oneself in the shoes of another individual. No pity, just a deep, personal understanding.
Something, one of our favourite marketing mentors, Seth Godin, says is not easy for us to generate voluntary. “We’re not wired to walk in someone else’s shoes, and it’s not our first instinct. Showing up with empathy is difficult, hard to outsource and will wear you out. But it’s precisely what we need from you”.
Without empathy, people and company culture have the propensity to be self-absorbed and self-fulfilling which ultimately affects every aspect of a business from employees to suppliers and clients. Here’s a great case study on two companies, a bakery (empathetic) and an airline (apathetic).
And teams really want it. In another thought-provoking study looking at over 10,000 manager reviews, Google employees weighed in on what makes a highly effective manager. Turns out having a manager who takes an interest in their team’s lives and careers was in the top three of the most important attributes.
Understanding your team and your team understanding each other is Team Intelligence at its best – a perfect combination of effective communication and empathy. When leaders and teams listen, really listen, using empathy to comprehend what each individual is thinking or feeling without attempting for change or fix them or solve the problem, the person feels appreciated as a human being; they feel valued. And this is the space where trust and highly effective teams evolve.
Like most of the emotional competencies, empathy is a learned capacity. Empathy skills should be learned experientially, as in practiced in the field in real time. It is also something that is ideally practised every day, even in the smallest of ways.
Here are a 10 ways you can start improving empathy within your team and organisation
Remember it’s everyone’s day. Be nice. It’s everyone’s day and who you are to them (helpful, dismissive, rude, patient) affects how their day goes and snowballs on to others.
Be respectful. Regardless of what the role or level, everyone is valuable and plays an important part in making sure the day or project runs smoothly. It’s also a rookie mistake to make assume who has the power in the room. Front desk /receptionists / PAs / are perfect examples of gatekeepers.
Be accountable. Keep a note of scenarios where you felt you’d managed to demonstrate empathy and a notice whenever you felt you didn’t. Take note of missed chances to respond with empathy.
Be present. Become aware of incidents where there might be some underlying concerns which aren’t explicitly expressed by others.
Be open minded. Make a note of possible emotions that the other person could be experiencing. Keep an open mind and never presume, merely explore the possibilities.
Ask the right questions. Develop a mental list of questions to ask at your next meeting to better understand scenarios. Try to make the questions open ended, as in questions that can’t be answered by “yes” or “no”.
Avoid being defensive so as to create an open dialogue where possibilities might be explored freely.
Be generous. Allow creative time for individuals to express opinions and notions without judgment.
Practice active listening. Always check the meaning of what was said with the individual speaking. Ask questions. Wait till the other person is complete with their viewpoint before offering yours.
Paraphrase what people say to help to clear up a misconception, deepen understanding, and demonstrate you care about what the other person is saying.