A leader overseeing a collaborative group

There is a notable relationship between leadership and empathy. In many instances, as a person increases their positional power, their empathy decreases.

The importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) cannot be overlooked in a business context. EQ is an essential element of the employee engagement and retention equation. With more employees and younger generations seeking purpose in the workplace and clamoring for positive, inclusive climates, the value of empathy will only increase.

While EQ can diminish when a person starts to climb up the ranks of their company, that does not have to be true of all leaders. Individuals can amplify their compassion by paying close attention to their own work habits.

7 Practices to Enhance Empathy

#1 – Practice Pausing

Most executives and managers would likely agree with me when I say that time seems to be in short supply. With a multitude of priorities, it can be difficult to take the necessary time that supports perspective taking. Moving too quickly can cause us to “react” rather than “respond,” leading to knee-jerk decisions that may not effectively take into account the many considerations of any given situation.

I invite leaders to pause before diving into problem-solving mode. Creating space between a stimulus and your response will allow you time to think more openly, which can lead to greater understanding and better decision quality.

#2 – Embrace Curiosity

As leaders, we often feel the pressure to have all of the answers. Over time, if a person is too focused on providing specific directives, it can reduce their empathy because they may lose sight of other points of view beyond their own. The leader may also start to feel frustrated if they perceive they are always the one to come up with ideas.

Instead of rushing to an answer, get curious. When opportunities or challenges arise, ask questions of your team members like “What am I missing?” Seek more context and prompt employees to think about the circumstance from different viewpoints with questions like “How else could we look at this?” An inquisitive approach encourages people to hear and appreciate the considerations of others.

#3 – Challenge Assumptions

Everyone has a preferred approach to how they work, think, behave or show up. These interactions are shaped by a number of factors like their personalities, their cultures, their family dynamics and their lived experiences, among other elements.

Executives and managers can increase their EQ by proactively challenging their own innate perspectives. That starts by seeking understanding using any number of resources. It may include reading books about cultural competency, learning from other leaders or using tools like Emergenetics® to reveal the value of different styles.

#4 – Ask for Input

Building empathy requires an individual to put themselves in another’s shoes, so a great place to start is by asking for input on projects. Before making a decision, I invite executives and managers to proactively reach out to hear from others. Find out what their recommendations would be, what obstacles they see and what concerns come to mind as they think about the situation at hand.

I also encourage leaders to seek feedback on their management style, with specific attention to blind spots and opportunities for improvement. Psychological safety is essential before an employee will truly feel capable of providing useful feedback. If you need some tips to build an open and inclusive environment, start here.

#5 – Stay Connected

Understanding and care will increase when executives and managers have strong relationships with their team members. To cultivate these connections, proactively check in with staff. This can be done live, in person or over Zoom. It can also be accomplished virtually and asynchronously with chat channels.

Ask about the employees’ goals, interests, obstacles and hopes. Find out how they want to grow and make a point to learn about their lives outside of the workplace. By knowing employees as whole people, leaders can create personal, empathetic relationships with their teammates.

#6 – Own Mistakes

I had a chance to attend the Association for Talent Development conference this year and hear from Adam Grant, who shared a concept from his book Think Again. In it, he explains: Leaders should be scientists [who are] as motivated to explore what might be wrong as they are by what is right. This concept is essential to empathy in two ways.

First, by recognizing mistakes, it raises awareness that there may have been a different and better approach to the situation. This acknowledgement may encourage individuals to be more thoughtful about alternative methodologies and perspectives in the future. Second, admitting to mistakes also reminds a person that they are not infallible. Owning up to errors reminds everyone (including ourselves) that we are human, which can help us to be more humble in our work. It may also help us to be more forgiving when others make mistakes.

#7 – Reflect Daily

Revisiting my first point, executives and managers are taxed for time, so the concept of reflecting every day may feel challenging. Start small by scheduling time on the calendar for reflection – even just 5 – 10 minutes at the beginning, end or middle of the day.

Then, consider the past 24 hours and reflect on:

  • What you are proud of
  • What you could have done better
  • What conversation, idea or project would have been made better by taking a different lens or consulting another perspective

In a typical day, a leader should be able to come up with an answer for each of these questions.

Empathy takes practice, and the results are well worth the effort. By proactively increasing EQ, leaders will promote an environment where their team members feel respected, seen and heard, creating a better culture for all.

Learn how Emergenetics can amplify your soft skills. Visit our website or fill out the form below to speak with one of our staff members today.

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