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The Significance of Empathy for Professional Relationships

This month I’m coaching 26 amazing individuals participating in an online, global leadership program - the altMBA - founded in 2015 by Seth Godin. The program celebrates our shared humanity and provides students with the skills they need to be impactful leaders and make meaningful change.


The particular folks I’m working with come from 15 different countries and work in a variety of professions. What strikes me, though, is that whether you are in Pakistan, Dubai, USA, Switzerland or France, the leadership postures that lead to successful outcomes are the same.


One skill we are tangling with is empathy. You might not think that empathy has anything to do with leadership, yet it may be one of the most important skills you can have.


Let’s explore a few reasons why . . .

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What is Empathetic Leadership?

In a professional relationship, empathy means the willingness to recognize that your colleagues, your customers and those you serve are growing and changing people with full lives of their own. An empathetic leader:

  • Allows humanness to show up

  • Accepts mistakes are inevitable

  • Generously gives and receives feedback from a place of “let’s make this better together”

  • Creates space to reflect and understand what is going on around them

The Professional Benefits of Empathy Challenges arise when we see others as characters instead of really contemplating who they are and what makes them tick. Entering into a professional relationship with a spirit of empathy allows you to assume positive intentions and seek to understand, rather than critique. Why empathy at work?

  • Empathy improves your understanding of the people in the organizational system

  • Empathy allows you to tap into opportunities you might otherwise miss

  • Empathy gives you the ability to find space around challenges and identify solutions that otherwise could be overlooked.

Leading with empathy ultimately creates the space for better decisions and stronger leadership.

Let's unwrap this further . . .

7 Ways to Bring Empathy to Work

How does empathy show up at work? Here are some practical tips that set the stage and allow the skill of empathy to flourish:

  1. Consistently hold regular 1:1 meetings with a loose, non-judgmental agenda that allows time for your staff to share what is going on for them and what challenges and successes they are facing.

  2. Listen with intent, reflection and attention: no need for immediate action.

  3. Give feedback, kindly and from a place of making this better together.

  4. Allow others to make mistakes; help them know that imperfection is acceptable.

  5. Allow humanness to show up and live through honest sharing of reactions to situations.

  6. Pay attention, reflect and seek to understand situations while you are going through them.

  7. Acknowledge that others have their own stories and may be holding onto beliefs that you don’t know about.

Would Coaching Help Your Empathy Journey?

Over time, we all experience natural challenges that come along with our leadership roles. By incorporating empathy into our mindset, we can shift conversations and alleviate tension. This allows us to lead with our full potential and not be held back by limiting beliefs. While empathy feels intangible, it is actually a skill you can practice and get better at. If you or your team are interested in how to bring more empathy into your relationships and organization, let’s talk about coaching! In the meantime, keep finding ways to practice empathy and let me know what you learn. I look forward to staying connected.