Empathy, the ability to understand another person’s perspective, has always been important in business. It is learning to walk in another person’s shoes and understand a challenge from their perspective. It is a powerful skill that allows leaders to establish rapport, influence others, and get more done. Empathy is even more critical in times of crisis. With many businesses struggling to survive in a challenging economy, empathy is key in every business strategy.
Leaders can train themselves to be more empathetic. Here are simple techniques to add more empathy to your leadership approach.
Learn to listen well.
When you speak with another, whether internal or external, are you really listening to them—or are you thinking of what you want to say next? It is essential to listen to what the person is saying, whether you speak with them on the phone or attending a virtual meeting. You can practice listening well through role-playing. Work with another team member to practice a one-on-one conversation, aiming to avoid interruptions. Do your best to understand rather than listening to your reply.
Repeat back what others say.
Repeating what you hear is a helpful technique to practice in a role-playing situation. You can do this by setting up mock conversations. Once the speaker completes their story, the listener paraphrases what they think they heard. It is valuable to say something after they have finished like, “In other words, you are saying…” or “What I’m hearing is…” If the listener did not capture the speaker’s thoughts correctly, the speaker could relay the information until the listener understands. This step involves both roles listening carefully to one another.
Look for commonalities.
You do not need a colleague or friend to refine this technique. Instead, take the time to be thinking about the people you meet throughout the course of a typical day. You may come across your mail carrier, a barista at your local coffee shop, or a colleague you do not know well. Find out what you have in common with these people. When you do this, you help develop an empathetic approach, and this perspective is imperative.
A simple way to build more empathy is stoking your curiosity. When you have some downtime, maybe while waiting for a meeting to start or waiting in line somewhere, avoid scrolling your phone mindlessly. Instead, you could take the time to make up stories about what the people around you are doing, thinking, and feeling. Keep in mind their attire and body language to build your stories. Empathy grows when we expand our focus to the world at large, rather than getting caught up in our own bubble.
Empathy is a critical trait in your leadership approach, especially during difficult times. Consider the points above to integrate more empathy into your business processes. By approaching work and the people who do it with an empathetic approach, you help build a foundation of trust, and your team members and clients will notice. And this will help you thrive.
Leadership skills are adapting during these changing times. Read our blog post Leading From a Distance to gain practical tips so you can keep your team strong!