Empathy Tips for Leaders

Posted on 7th February 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to direct your attention to a helpful on-line article by Ryan Shelley. I recommend this contribution because it is practical and it reminds us that empathy is often a function of paying proper attention to people. Shelley offers five practical suggestions for empathic leaders:

The Critical Importance of Paying Attention

Listen well
There are several concrete suggestions here, including active listening, care with interruptions, and remembering the context of the conversation. To these I would add paraphrasing to check for understanding, and the invaluable capacity to ‘suspend one’s agenda’ while listening.

Pay attention to non-verbal communication
A timely reminder that words actually make up a quite small proportion of our communication message, perhaps 7 – 10 percent. We really can’t afford to ignore the remaining 90 percent.

The importance of being fully present
Here I quote Shelley verbatim: “This is one of the hardest things to do in today’s ‘connected world.’ It’s easy to believe we can multi-task, but the sad truth is, we can’t. None of us. So, don’t check your email, look at your watch or take phone calls when a direct report drops into your office to talk to you. How would you feel if your boss did that to you?” If we can get this right it will help immeasurably with our ability to listen well and capture non-verbal signals.

Encourage people to speak their minds honestly
People learn and do their best work when they feel safe. I like this suggestion because it implies creating a safe environment for people, one of my guiding principles as a leader and as a professional. Providing a safe space in which people can work, challenge and be challenged without fear of retaliation will support a positive, motivated, and innovative work environment.

Genuine acknowledgment and recognition
We are all familiar with the concept of ‘feedback’ and more leaders are beginning to understand that positive feedback can be a great motivator. Make the effort to thank and praise people authentically when they deserve it: kind and genuine words build empathy.

Finally, Shelley reminds us that this is ultimately about our interactions with people: “As we move further and further into the connection economy, leaders and business owners must learn to develop empathy and use it on a daily basis. At the end of the day, we work with and for people. People who have real needs and emotions. Cultivating our empathy skills will help us inspire our team members, create marketing messages that connect, and make our sales process more human.” Some helpful insights here.

Good luck, and until next time…