Although it has always been a vital leadership skill, in recent years, empathy has finally been recognized for the impact it can have at the workplace. Often talked about as a “soft skill”, it is in fact a vital hard skill that can produce critical corporate outcomes.
Although you may already know that practicing empathy is important on an individual level, new research highlights its significance in the workplace for everything from product innovation to employee retention. Empathy is at the top of a list of qualities that great leaders must master to create the conditions for involvement, happiness, and achievement.
Over the last few years, the pandemic has brought on more and more stress at work. Our lives and our jobs have been turned upside down. One way we can start to move toward a better, more connected future is through the practice of empathy. As we face adversity, battle burnout, or find it difficult to experience happiness at work, empathy can be a potent remedy to help people and teams have positive experiences and relationships.
Michael Ventura has spent the past twenty years developing his reputation as a leader, facilitator, and educator, assisting individuals and groups as they go through times of change and transformation. He believes that today, empathy is more important than ever. His work and writings have been proven to help leaders and their teams adopt a new style of operations and methods for collaboration that lead to sustainable growth, and perhaps more pertinently, deeper, more meaningful relationships.
He states that leaders can show empathy in a variety way. One way is through the practice of what’s called “cognitive empathy”, which asks, “what does it feel like to be them, in this moment?” Deep inquiry and practiced listening techniques are key to truly unlocking this sort of understanding for another person. Another path can be through the act of emotional empathy which asks leaders to consider what they may need to do to change emotional outcomes and improve the lives of those they work with every day.
However, in order for this to truly work, there must be a sense of trust established between all parties. Leaders themselves must be willing to vulnerably express their worries, share their difficulties, and listen to their team members’ comments. This isn’t easy, and as Ventura says, is what makes the true practice of empathy much more than a “soft skill.”
A leader can show they care and are paying attention without having to pretend to be a therapist. The simple acts of checking in, inquiring about a team member’s well-being, and observing the workplace and how it feels on a given day can surface a great deal of insight. By staying aware of the company’s well-being, leaders can also take proactive measures to help the culture improve over time, versus needing to react swiftly in a crisis because they had ignored the warning signs for too long.
Effective leadership requires action. People will trust leaders and have a better feeling of involvement and commitment when there is congruence between what a leader says and does. Employees may not always say it, but they are constantly thinking and watching how leaders act and if their actions don’t align to what they’ve said is most important, not only does the leadership lose authority, but it loses credibility.
Making an effort to thoroughly understand an individual’s difficulties and extending assistance are examples of empathy. Understanding others’ points of view and having a constructive discussion together will inevitably lead to better outcomes. Making a decision that incorporates a team member’s viewpoints helps them to feel seen and respected. People may not remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel, according to a proverb.
Although empathy may not be a brand-new skill, it has a new level of significance. Developing and demonstrating empathy is vital to the future of an integrated, high performing workplace. Ventura’s work is a north star for leaders looking to begin to develop their efforts in this regard. The lessons shared in his book, talks, and consulting with organizations has proven that during times of transformation, through a practice rooted in empathy, organizations will not only survive, but they will learn how to thrive.