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5 Tips to Help Leaders Use Empathy in Interactions

Use empathy in interactions

Tips to Help Leaders Use Empathy in Interactions

One of the best ways for a leader to endear people to them is to use empathy in their dealings with those they lead. Empathy is simply trying to understand others by putting yourself in their shoes.

Henry Ford once said: “If there is any one secret to success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from his angle as well as your own.”

Empathy helps people feel understood, valued, and cared about. When leaders appropriately use empathy the response from those being led is “she gets us.” Or, “he really cares.”

The barrier to empathy, resulting in a lack of empathy, is seeing the world through our own eyes. It’s thinking that all problems and solutions come from the current lenses we are looking through. It creates an inability to see problems and solutions that are different from those lenses we are looking through.

For example, I have raised four teenagers (four more to go – sigh). Many times I was frustrated with their reasoning, lack of judgment and ability to solve their own problems. As I look back, there were many times I just didn’t get them. But it was the times that I took a deep breath and remembered myself as a teenager that my attitude changed. This resulted in more patience, understanding and empathy.

Leaders can and must do the same thing.  A leader who lacks empathy relates best to those that are like him, and less with those that are different. This can cause issues.

Here are five tips to help leaders use empathy in their day-to-day interactions with those they lead. These five tips are meant to help others feel they are being heard, understood and valued.

1. Empathetically Listen. Empathetic listening requires you to try to understand and not interrupt. Put your hand over your mouth if you need to, but really try understand what is being said. Allow the person to express herself fully.

Part of empathetic listening also requires you to ask questions. Get in the habit of listening to understand. As you do so questions will come to your mind.

2. Use empathetic body language. Maintain eye contact and good body posture and get as close as comfortably possible. Don’t fidget with things or show in any way that you are disinterested in what is being said.

3. Don’t rush to judgment. Literally put yourself in the shoes of the person you are interacting with. Focus on trying to understand what it would be like to be in that persons shoes.

4. Validate emotions and feelings. Genuinely state things like “That must be really difficult,” or “I am sure there are others that would struggle with that as well.” These types of empathetic statements help someone feel you really “get it.”

5. Lend support. Ask what you can do to help. At the very least let the person know you are there to support them however you can.

As we try to understand and be more empathetic as leaders, our teams and those we lead will want to follow.

What ways have you seen the use of empathy affect how a leader leads? What ways have you seen the lack of empathy hurt a leader? Would love to hear your comments.

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  • http://www.ctileadership.com Mo Kasti

    I agree. I would add: 1. Challenge your assumption about the other person.

  • http://www.openthemeeting.com Mike Rogers

    Thanks Mo and Judy!
    Mo, I like that. Challenge is a good word : )
    Mike

  • http://www.busbyteamconsulting.com/ Judy Oliver Busby

    Couldn’t agree more. Leaders that demonstrate empathy are more able to coach others to success as well…

  • Wayne

    Very good advice, Mike. I would add: Be genuine; sincere. If people sense that you are just “pretending” to care, you will lose their trust. Not only will they stop communicating now, but they won’t feel comfortable talking to you in the future.
    Effective leaders need open channels of communication. These are earned with trust.

  • http://www.openthemeeting.com Mike Rogers

    Nice addition Wayne, I agree. Leaders can’t fake it. They really have to feel what they are hearing and what they are saying. Thanks!
    Mike

  • J. Murray

    An effective exercise is to argue the contentious person’s argument for him/her.
    It’s good even if you do it alone, but if you can get the contrary person to argue YOUR argument and create a dialogue where you each take the opposite side, real understanding can happen. Lots of ah-ha! moments.
    This happened when I had a small business and was having some difficulties with my small staff. Very enlightening for everyone!

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  • John Desses

    I enjoy and benefit from all your articles and contribution to all of us who are in the training field. Thanks

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Want to Know More About The Author of This Post?

I have led, trained and consulted in business with hundreds of individuals and teams on leadership and team concepts. My greatest satisfaction in life is seeing others succeed. I am currently the owner of "Teamwork and Leadership Bloggings with Michael Rogers" and OpenTheMeeting.com.

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