Why Empathy Is An Essential Skill For Leaders
Posted on 27th October 2021
Empathy is all about understanding what other people feel and seeing things from their point of view. It’s important in so many ways and it has always been an essential leadership skill.
Now we are all more aware of the importance of mental health as well as physical health, empathy is becoming a priority. While building relationships and providing support are sometimes called ‘soft’ skills in the workplace, it is now recognised that empathy can drive significant results for businesses.
It’s important for everything from business innovation to staff retention, built on a foundation of engagement, recognition, and performance.
The stress effect
The pandemic meant that many of us experienced radical changes in our working lives. It caused us to review and rethink our motivation and values. For some this level of change is very stressful.
A study of the impact of the pandemic around the world involving 2,000 employees found that over 40% said they experienced a decline in mental health. Six out of 10 said their stress levels and anxiety had increased. Over half said that they were more emotionally exhausted, sad, and irritable. People said they were feeling confused and angry.
Worries about work can easily overflow into our personal lives leading to problems like insomnia for example. Even a badly worded email can cause negativity, affect relationships, and cause people to lose confidence as parents.
When we experience negativity and rudeness at work, we’re less likely to help others and this can also have an impact on performance, turnover, and customer retention.
Empathy builds positivity
In contrast, empathy can be the antidote, creating positive experiences for individuals and teams. Amongst the benefits when employees feel that their colleagues, managers, and leaders show empathy are:
Innovation – when employees feel that their leaders are empathetic, they are likely to be more innovative at work, compared to those whose leaders are remote or negative.
Engagement – more than seven out of 10 employees say they are engaged at work when they feel empathy, compared with only a third in more negative environments. This will have a direct impact on performance and productivity.
Retention – more than half of female employees said they are less likely to move to a new job when they feel their life circumstances are respected and they are valued.
Work-life balance – where leaders and managers are thought to be empathetic almost nine out of 10 employees say they could successfully manage their work and home life to meet their personal, family and work obligations. Where there’s less empathy the figure drops to just six out of 10.
Top 10 tips to demonstrate empathy
While some people are naturals, empathy is a skill that you can learn and develop. The more you do it, the better you will be. Here are some tips:
Listen to people and pay attention to their tone of voice and things that they might not be saying.
Respect people’s concerns and give them time to explain. Often, they don’t want advice or for you to ‘fix’ things, they just want to be heard.
Pay attention to body language, especially when it might be at odds with what people are saying.
Be aware of how you communicate with others about feelings and attitudes; it’s not just about the words you use.
Make a point of remembering details about your employees so that they know you are interested.
Avoid distractions when you are with others like checking your email or looking at your phone.
Remember to look people in the eye and smile; these are sure signs that you are open and interested.
Take time to engage with team members who are quiet or less direct. If necessary, specifically invite them to make comments or be more involved.
Remember to give praise when things are going well.
Ask questions about your employees’ hobbies, families, and aspirations to show that you are interested in everyone’s wellbeing.
If you would like to know more about empathy and the difference it can make to your business please get in touch.
Until next time ...
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