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  • Mike Bensi

Step into Empathy


It's the beginning of a new year. Hopefully you've come into the new year refreshed and ready for a new start.

Your team members may also be coming into the new year also refreshed. And/or looking for a fresh start.

And it may not be with you.

But that couldn't be, right? You've hired the best people to manage and lead your teams. Surely, you'll be fine.

You may only be half-fine as this study found that ineffective managers make up half of the today’s organizational management pool.

With such a dismal statistic, it's no wonder companies are actively seeking strategies to help develop their managers and leaders. As you seek out your own strategy, let me advocate for a specific skill.

Empathy.

To throw one more stat at you, this study found that fewer than half of employees rate their companies as empathetic. So might empathy be something to look into?

By the title of this article, the answer is yes.

"But how can you address the issue?", you might be asking. Isn't empathy:

  • a feeling?

  • unteachable?

  • irrelevant to my company and/or industry?

The answer to all of the above is a resounding "no". Luckily:

  • Empathy is not a magical feeling that only a certain few of us possess. In fact, 98% of us have the ability to empathize.

  • Empathy, or the ability to empathize, is teachable. If nearly all of us possess the ability, than nearly anyone can learn and improve the ability to empathize

  • Employees, regardless of company or industry, want to feel listened to, understood, and appreciated. All of which can be done through empathy.

To believe that the above are possible, we have to look at empathy an ability or skill to relate to someone else's thoughts, perspectives, or experiences. This ability and skill creates opportunities to show:

  • An interest in the needs and goals of other team members,

  • A willingness to help an employee with a problem,

  • That the leader or manager will do what they say they will do when they meet the team member's needs - which creates trust and credibility.

To support the development of your manager or leader to better demonstrate empathy, consider these actions and behaviors:

Be aware. Before you sit down with someone else, first check yourself. Meaning, ask yourself if you are ready to focus on another person. We have many opportunities to demonstrate empathy; however, we may miss those opportunities if we are fully focused on where we need to be next or what email needs to be sent out. Empathy is created when we create a space to focus on the other person.

Acknowledge the person. Listening to another person is one of the best forms of acknowledgement. If you can't get the person talking, you can't emphasize with what they need. Asking simple open-ended questions allows you to listen. And if you don't understand, ask clarifying questions. One of my favorites is "Tell me more."

Define the need. When you've heard enough to understand the person, summarize it in a sentence or to. "What I hear you saying is..." or "It sounds to me you have a need to/for...." Being able to reframe the question in this way confirms that you were listening and that you've heard the person's real needs, wishes, expectations, etc.

Ask how you can help. Empathy is built by relating to a need - versus solving for the need. Before you offer up solutions, ask your employee what they think they need to do. Chances are, they may have a solution in mind that they want to share.

Agree on an action to take and/or follow up. Confirming the action to take shows you continued to listen - and that you are helping the other person take ownership of next steps. Reinforce this by following up with the person to stay engaged and continue to show interest in their need.

Empathy isn't about a feeling or magical force. It is about demonstrating interest in another person's feelings about their needs or goals. And by improving empathy, you're helping improve the performance of that person - as well as your own performance as a leader.


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