In the A- Z of leadership E is Empathy. Putting yourself in another’s shoes.
Empathy is really understanding the other person’s perspective, position and feelings. It is the ability to ‘step back’, and achieve a detachment from our own emotions, and is essential for building trust, rapport and effective relationships.
It involves listening and understanding – not necessarily agreeing (which is different) – to the other person. Listening without judging.
As a minimum a good leader asks open questions to encourage and understand the views, feelings and attitudes of others, and reflects back to show they understand or to clarify. But a good leader will do this without being judgemental of others’ views even if these conflict with their own, and will be open to differences in opinions and perspectives.
Empathy goes beyond what is said, it is also demonstrated via your tone and body language. A critical or sarcastic tone will not encourage someone to share their views; neither will raised eyebrows, scowling or defensive body language.
Active listening is key, show your interest, ask probing questions (in a non-judgemental way) to ensure understanding. Aim to understand how the other person feels, why they see things as they see things as they do (so bring out any underlying assumptions) and to discover what they want to achieve.
‘Seek first to understand’ is one of the seven habits described by Stephen Covey in ‘The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People’
Ask for feedback on your own behaviour so you can use this information to strengthen your relationships with your team. Be open with your own feelings and views too to enable your team to see things from your perspective, and by sharing your views you will encourage others to do the same.
Aim to develop a culture of trust and openness where your team can speak out knowing they will be heard and without fear of criticism.
Why is empathy important?
- When you understand others’ perspectives it can help in the way you sell ideas to them and gain buy in (as well as the way you sell to customers and suppliers).
- If people know they are listen to it helps to build trust between you and your team
- It creates a more open and honest environment where you will get to hear of issues and concerns before they become a problem
- Your team feel able to state their true ideas, feelings and beliefs maximising their contribution.
- Empathy is also important in dealing with guests and customers, so demonstrating the skill with our teams will act as a role model
Building relationships with your team is key to effective leadership, and the skills needed will is covered in detail in my new Leading for Peak Performance programme,