When was the last time you showed empathy toward one of your employees? I don’t mean sympathy – feeling sorry for them and their situation. I’m talking about empathy, the ability to see a situation from another’s point of view and feel what they’re feeling. The ability to walk in their shoes, so to speak.
Many managers believe that showing empathy is a waste of time or shows weakness on their part. After all, they’re very busy, they have things to do, and they don’t have time to listen to their employees to really understand what’s going on in their lives. But the things that go on in their employees’ lives often impact them at work – mentally, emotionally, and in their level of productivity. And a manager’s empathy may be just what they need to get themselves back on track.
The late, great Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, had this to say on the topic:
“As a leader, you should always start with where people are before you try to take them where you want them to go.”
He understood the magic of empathy in the business world, that when you connect on a personal level with those on your team, you’re much more likely to get the results you want.
A shortage of empathy in the workplace accounts for an increasing lack of employee engagement and motivation. This negatively impacts productivity and morale and costs businesses more than $600 billion per year, according to Rae Shanahan, Chief Strategy Officer at Businesssolver. That’s a staggering sum by any reckoning. But the situation can be remedied through the expression of empathy, showing real concern for others and asking about ways to help.
Entrepreneurs often mistakenly assume that empathy is something you’re born with. But as it turns out, empathy is a muscle that you can strengthen, just as you do your quads. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets, and the easier it is to use it. Empathy becomes an automatic response to what’s going on in the workplace.
Here are a few quick tips to help you strengthen your empathy muscle in the workplace:
- Listen: A big part of being empathetic is truly hearing what the other person is saying. Employees want their thoughts and feelings, especially as they pertain to the work environment, to be heard.
- Acknowledge and relate: Let employees know that you understand what they’re saying. Paraphrase and repeat back to them what you think they said. This lets them know you’re listening and can relate to their situation.
- Prove that you understand the situation: Ask thoughtful questions to put people at ease. Show them that you understand what they’re going through and are willing to help.
- Be genuine: This is perhaps the most important. Empathy doesn’t work – in fact, it’s more like manipulation – when you’re not sincere in your interest in the other’s situation.
- Build trust: This goes along with being genuine. Build trust and a connection with employees that lets them know you’re here for them, whatever their challenges may be.
- Show appreciation: One of the strongest indicators of employee loyalty is how much they feel appreciated by management. Thank your employees for what they do each day. And thank them, also, for being willing to share their troubles with you. It’s difficult to be that vulnerable, especially at work. Make sure they know you don’t take that lightly.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean you’re a pushover who gives everyone what they want, all the time. It means that you’re accessible to your employees. You’re approachable, and you care about them. And when they’re struggling, you want to know about it. This is what builds employee morale, generates loyalty, and creates a work environment that people are proud of and happy to come to every day.
And that’s the key to running a successful business.