In the wake of the pandemic, leading with empathy and compassion have become central focus areas for employees and businesses alike.
The adverse effects of the pandemic have impacted employees, who are re-evaluating their personal priorities and their relationship with work. Leaders are changing the way that they engage with employees, and are enhancing their soft skills to build trust and understanding in businesses.
What is empathy?
At its core, empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel and to see things from their point of view. Essentially, it is the ability to place yourself in someone else’s position and to feel what they are feeling.
Often, we are well-attuned to our own feelings and emotions – but can struggle to understand the emotions that others feel.
What empathy in business means
While empathy is considered to be a “soft skill”, it has become invaluable to organisations in times of change and crisis, working to drive cohesion and understanding of everyone’s unique situation in difficult times – such as COVID.
By learning to empathise and understand another person’s perspective, leaders become more intuitive and communication becomes more effective – driving business innovation and improving the bottom line. Statistically, organisations that embrace leading with empathy show positive results – including reduced stress, improved retention, and longer, more positive relationships with their employees.
Is empathy the most important leadership skill?
Empathy allows leaders to validate the experiences that employees are going through. By creating an environment of open communication that allows them to deeply understand the problems employees face, and how to help them resolve them.
While Forbes data says that empathy is the most important leadership skill, only 40% of people rate their leaders as being empathetic. While there are many skills that could arguably be considered to be the most important, this statistic highlights the current disconnect between what employees want and what leadership is actually providing.
How to build empathy
Empathy is a skill that can be developed and while some level of empathy comes naturally to some leaders, most find that leading empathy is not as straightforward as they think. Some people tend to be more empathetic than others, and this sets them ahead in learning to enhance those skills to benefit them – and their teams – in the workplace.
There are some skills that contribute to overall empathy, and these include:
* Listening skills in order to listen to understand, not to act or respond
* Working to understand others by placing yourself in their shoes and seeing the situation from a different perspective
* Leverage diversity and understand your own biases
* Explore the heart, not just the head
Simply being aware of the need to develop this skill goes a long way to improving it.
The future of empathy in business
The world has changed, and will continue to do so – and leaders will need to adapt in many ways. Empathy has clear business value, and many organisations are encouraging leadership teams to explore the development of empathy through a small series of nudges to build organisations that support employees across a more diverse range of needs.