Without empathy and focus, you’ll never be able to communicate effectively and relate well to others. People who lack empathy are sure to face interpersonal difficulties that lead to inferior performance, negative outcomes, and poor relationships with coworkers and customers.
As a competency skill, empathy is poorly understood by those who need it the most. Some hard-driving managers eschew the need to develop empathy because they assume it’s for “touchy-feely” types. Other tone-deaf leaders blindly walk around, relying solely on logic and wondering why others fail to see things their way.
Research by the Center for Creative Leadership reveals that executive “derailment” is primarily caused by deficits in emotional competence:
The inability to understand matters from others’ points of view means some people lack the flexibility required for change. These individuals simply cannot work well with, or relate to, others, which makes them workplace liabilities.
Empathy is the ability to “walk in someone else’s moccasins.” Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, defines it as the ability to read other people by sharing and identifying their emotional states.
According to Goleman, empathy is a foundational skill for all social competencies in the workplace:
Successful leaders score high marks in these areas, which leads to goal completion – not to mention opportunities for promotion. When combined with focus, perseverance and concentration, empathy breeds achievement.
The Trickle-Down Theory
Empathetic managers are more likely to inspire others. They are generally well liked and command greater respect, which means their direct reports will be motivated to go the extra mile. The goal is to achieve balance in empathy and goal-orientation for optimum effectiveness.
Empathy is even more critical when managers:
So, where does one start?
The first step requires true curiosity, the desire to understand another’s point of view, and a genuine interest in what the person is saying and feeling. The best way to accomplish this step is through questions like:
Be sure to focus on emotional cues. Appreciate not only what others are saying, but also why they are saying it. Also listen for what’s not being said.
Without empathy, you will have a tendency to misread other people. You will neglect to ask clarifying questions, and you will miss nonverbal cues. If you listen only to others’ words, facts and figures, you will miss the emotional context of what’s being said.
Research tells us that we remember only 7 percent of someone’s message from their words. The rest is communicated through nonverbal cues: facial expressions, body language and tonality. Strict attention to words will mislead you, so make sure that nonverbal communication is consistent with what you’re hearing.
10 Steps to Improving Empathy
The following steps can help you improve your empathy skills. As with other emotional competencies, empathy requires practice, so consider working with an experienced coach if you continue to face obstacles.
Should you care, about developing your communication skills? You should care. By developing your communication skills, you are assured more rewarding and successful career.
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