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Do You REALLY Need Empathy?

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Do you know why empathy is so important?

Actually, let’s start by defining what empathy is. Empathy is the ability to imagine what someone else is feeling. It doesn’t mean you feel sorry for that person. It means you can see and understand their emotions, and make a connection.

As I mentioned in a recent Forbes article, empathy helps us read people and situations, adapt accordingly, build trust and connect more effectively with others.

You’ve probably heard about emotional intelligence? It’s one of the most important - and most lacking - skills required for leadership. You might wonder why it’s lacking? One reason is because of all the polar opposite skills required for leadership - quick decision making, risk taking, visionary, etc. Who has time to empathize?

However, we all know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone who isn’t empathizing. And this gets us back to why empathy is so important.

Without empathy, it is almost impossible to become a leader that people want to follow. And a leader that people want to follow, rather than one they feel like they have to follow, is a more effective and efficient leader who gets exponential results through people and enjoys the role.

Most management teams I work with agree with me when we begin the discussion about the value of our people. But when we roll up our sleeves and start considering the thoughts and beliefs we have about our roles and our people, and the actual behaviors leaders are exhibiting -  they soon discover their words and actual behaviors are incongruous.

Managers say they value their people, but they often don’t show it. 

There’s no better way to show you value someone than by empathizing as you’re listening. This one act will help you connect, build trust, and it actually helps you follow through because you remember better when you’ve genuinely connected with the person. It’s true that most people just want to be acknowledged, it it's genuine of course.

For the majority of us, we just need to focus on the act of empathizing. Slow down, be mindful of someone’s emotional state, and acknowledge you’re genuinely listening. If you’re like me, when developing any habit, I need to write it down, and remind myself to do it for about 2 or 3 weeks before it sticks. (I use my GRIT planner for this.)

For a few of us, we may not naturally feel the empathy. In that case, we need to learn how to empathize. One way to start is to watch people and guess what emotion they are feeling. Next, imagine it’s you or one of your family members. What would it be like for you (or them)? Keep practicing this. If you have a hard time empathizing in the workplace, ask yourself why it would be important for you to connect with this person (this is intrinsic motivation). Remember, we don’t always love everything we need to do to be successful, but we do need to round out our skills so we have what it takes to lead effectively!

I’d love to hear in what ways you show empathy at work? Leave a comment below so everyone can benefit.

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