One of the most difficult soft skills to master is that of putting yourself in someone else’s position and understanding where they’re coming from. This is especially hard when you don’t agree with their point of view. Becoming empathetic takes focus, dedication, and self-awareness.
The effects of the pandemic have made empathy even more important for leaders. According to AmeriHealth Caritas CEO Paul Tufano, “This has been a sustained period of uncertainty and fear, but also a great opportunity to forge a stronger, more cohesive, and more motivated workforce. If CEOs can step into a ministerial role — extending hands virtually, truly listening, relating to and connecting with people where they are — there is enormous potential to inspire people and strengthen bonds and loyalties within the company.”
Empathy is a spectrum, it’s not a skill that you have or don’t. Some people are naturally more empathetic than others. But those that are less naturally empathetic can improve this skill and communicate with empathy just as well as they communicate their messages of inspiration.
According to a recent HBR article, “During challenging times, the most effective leadership communications are ones that deliver attention, acknowledge distress, demonstrate care, and — not necessarily at first, but eventually — take appropriate action to mitigate the situation or at least provide comfort.” The article recommends focusing on the following to be more empathetic in your communications with others.
There is a saying that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is as important as speaking, even more so when it comes to empathic communication. Be present in conversations, put away your phone and computer, pay attention to what you’re hearing, ask questions to be sure you’re clear, and repeat back your understanding to make sure there is no miscommunication.
There are a number of circumstances where you’re not expected to solve the issue that is being presented. Often what is needed is an acknowledgment of the situation and how it is affecting the team. A couple of suggested phrases from the article include:
- I recognize how this reorganization process can be stressful.
- This has been a very challenging quarter for all of us.
Authentically showing your concern for your employees is a great way to build trust. Great leaders aren’t afraid to express caring feelings when necessary. And when they do, employees will pay attention. The following examples are shared in the article:
- Your safety in the field is our top priority.
- I’m very concerned about staff burnout.
There are times when you’ll need to take action to show your empathy. Showing the willingness to pitch in and address the situation can go a long way in building camaraderie. Here are a couple of examples:
- We created a committee to examine these issues and recommend solutions.
- We have extended summer half-day Fridays for all employees.
Becoming empathetic is an ongoing process. For the recommended Do’s and Don’ts, we suggest reading the article. “Remember that empathy only has meaningful impact on your team when they hear it, read it, and see it, so don’t be too concerned about how empathic you are on the inside. Take smart and effective steps to express empathy out loud.”
For more executive leadership articles, visit our blog.