Empathy includes understanding another person’s feelings and perspective. It can be a powerful tool for leaders and managers. Using empathy helps us to navigate our relationships and the world around us. It is a critical piece of emotional intelligence.
Empathy can also give you a career boost. A study by DDI, a management consulting company, found it was a critical driver of overall performance. Researchers have also found that those with empathy are rated as higher performers by their bosses. Unfortunately, the DDI study found that only 40 percent of leaders have strong empathic abilities.
The good news is that empathetic communication is a skill that anyone can learn.
Why empathy is important in the workplace
While you can automate some business processes, the most important resource that organizations have is their employees. These employees are human beings with complicated thoughts and experiences that contribute to their unique perspectives. Moreover, people are emotional creatures.
Leaders who can understand others’ emotions will employ empathetic communication techniques to solve problems and build trust. These are the elements needed to achieve team success.
Essentially, how can you effectively lead someone if you don’t understand them?
How does empathy contribute to effective communication?
Many people listen with their own agendas in mind. They mentally agree or disagree with what is being said and either offer advice to the speaker or try to figure out other people based on what was said. These practices are not useful for effective communication.
When you are practicing empathy, you’ll see things from another person’s point of view. You will understand their emotions and position. This level of understanding enables you to come up with solutions that suit both your needs. In other words, the outcome of empathetic communication is that people listen to each other to achieve an understanding.
Reflecting and rephrasing are two ways you can implement empathetic communication when you talk with others. When people feel understood, they are less defensive and more willing to work with you towards a solution.
Examples of empathetic communication in the workplace
Effective communication is vital to accomplish business goals and tasks. Using empathetic communication helps to create a cohesive team that works together towards business objectives. Here are some ways that you can use empathetic communication at work.
Understand your own and others communication styles
We all communicate in different ways, and it’s essential to understand your communication style and those of your co-workers. When you know your communication style, you’ll be able to adjust it to help you connect with other team members better. This approach enables you to meet people where they are rather than making them feel they need to change for you.
Bring positivity to your conversations
How we speak to others can leave them feeling uplifted or the opposite. Being upbeat and bringing some positivity to your conversations will leave others with a willingness to talk to you again in the future. Moreover, a positive attitude is conducive to solving problems. It signals your desire to find a solution rather than just give up.
Listen to understand different perspectives, not respond
Active listening is vital to empathetic communication. But consider your motivation for listening and seek first to understand perspectives that are different from your own. Don’t jump in to respond to what is being said. Watch for other communication cues to help you understand the feelings of the speaker. These include body language, tone of voice, and mannerisms.
Find common ground
Work on finding things in common between you and your employees. While it is easier to recognize the ways others are not like us, it is more effective to build on common ground. Perhaps you share a hobby or non-work interest with someone on your team? Do you cheer for the same sports team? Are there life experiences you share, such as where you grew up or attended college? Once you identify the things you have in common, you’ll be able to cultivate a stronger relationship. Both of you will be more willing to listen and understand each other. This is the foundation you need for empathetic communication at work.
No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. A good leader will be quick to recognize their mistakes and make adjustments. One of the steps towards this change includes being ready to admit when you’ve made a mistake. That includes being too aggressive or demanding with your staff. Seek to reconcile with that person and apologize for what you did wrong. It helps your employees see you as human. Think about whether you would want to work with someone who never admitted their mistakes. Would that leader be building a workplace where employees feel valued and recognized or used and abused?
Recognize others’ personal circumstances and perspectives
To be a good empathetic communicator, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and consider what they may be going through. Are you trying to connect with a new hire on the team? Have you recently started working with a new group that may have been discouraged from sharing their feelings? Consider what you would want from a manager in those situations.
Don’t overlook personal issues that your employees may be going through. For example, if one of your team members has an inappropriate burst of anger at work, it could stem from something going on at home. Rather than disciplining them for the outburst, talk with them about what they are going through and ways they can better manage their stress. Doing this can show your employees that you both understand and care about them as a person. It goes a long way to building rapport and trust.
How to support empathetic communication with mentorship
Empathetic communication is vital to creating a cohesive and successful team. By employing some listening strategies that help you better understand others’ feelings and perspectives, you’ll be a stronger leader.
Workplace mentoring programs are an effective way to build empathy in your workplace as they can help you cultivate a connection with someone who may come from a different background. Although many workplaces are committed to their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives, there are still a number of challenges employees from diverse backgrounds face.
For that reason, mentoring programs give a voice to diverse or underrepresented employees. When minority individuals can connect 1-on-1 with executives or leaders across their organization, they’ll gain valuable advice and guidance. Likewise, they’ll grow their network and be more visible for future promotions.
An industry that struggles with diversity is the video game industry. King Games, a division of Activision and creators of Candy Crush, wanted to be different. They made the decision to leverage Together’s mentorship software to seamlessly match up members of their Women@King employee resource group. Our pairing algorithm suggested the most relevant mentors to each ERG member based on their skills and goals and gave them the ability to choose which one they wanted. King successfully matched over 250 employees, providing them with career-changing mentorship that led to more confidence and empowerment among their employees.
Organizations can’t expect to develop more empathetic communication in their workplace if they don’t make it more equitable. Learn more about starting mentoring programs designed to overcome diversity issues in the workplace and support empathetic communication in your organization.