During a recent workshop, a participant confessed his lack of empathy – a core dimension of emotional intelligence. He said, “I don’t have any, and I don’t know how to even begin to think about feeling the way others do.” Given the laughter and head nodding from the other participants, he was not alone.
For some business leaders, empathy is a luxury they don’t think they can afford. They may see it as an indulgence born from the “everybody-gets a trophy” generation, rather than an effective way to manage people. They don’t see the value in making employees feel good about themselves. But Forbes brought together a panel of experts on this very topic. According to them, empathy leads to happy employees, and happy employees are PRODUCTIVE employees. Empathy has also been proven to be the fertile ground in which innovation and growth can germinate.
To my workshop participant’s surprise, I told him he could amp up his capacity to empathize. There were things he could do to understand the emotions and behavior of others. I suggested he begin by regularly looking at situations through their eyes, not his own. When a situation arises that he suspects calls for empathy, I proposed he say to himself, “How would I feel if I was in this person’s situation, facing these same circumstances? What might be my perspective?” I invited him to walk, even if briefly, in the other person’s shoes and, from that vantage point, see if he is better able to understand their feelings, actions and reactions.
If more empathy would increase your effectiveness, make a conscious choice to look at situations from the perspective of the other. Successful leaders in today’s work environment know that power comes from listening to and relating to the people who report to them, those to whom they report, as well as their clients and business partners. Empathetic listening not only drives up productivity, but it may unlock the door to innovative ideas when you open your mind to what others feel and say.
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