Empathy has become a major topic of business over the past few years, and rightfully so. Finding a way to relate to another person's feelings goes a long way in building and fostering great relationships. (More here on the true meaning of empathy.)
But you may wonder, what are the benefits of empathy in practical, everyday work?
The purpose of work is to provide value. The greater the benefit our product, service, or task offers others, the more valuable it becomes.
When exercising empathy, you make efforts to see things from another person's perspective. Doing so allows you to increase the value you have to offer.
Here are seven practical ways to use empathy at work:
It's easy to talk over the heads of your audience if you know a lot about a subject. In contrast, if your audience is well-informed, oversimplifying will quickly bore them.
So, when assembling your presentation, ask yourself: How much does my audience already know about my topic? Keeping this in mind allows you to tailor the presentation specifically to your listeners, maximizing its impact.
Additionally, many fail to show empathy by speaking too fast (which we tend to do when we're anxious). Practice speaking at a slower pace and use pausing appropriately, and you'll keep your audience engaged. (More here on giving presentations that are emotionally intelligent.)
Writing with empathy means:
- Not overwhelming a recipient with too much information (avoiding email altogether, when a call or personal visit would be much better)
- Including enough information (while remaining concise), so the recipient knows exactly what you're talking about
- Not cc'ing everyone on everything
- Not sending a message of "Hi, can you handle this?," followed by a long message string
- Realizing that sarcasm, jokes, and tone are very difficult to interpret via email
- Saying thank you (and meaning it)
Writing with empathy not only makes your emails more bearable for others, it increases your own productivity. Why? Because when you keep your recipients' needs in mind (above your own), they'll respond quicker and be more willing to help.
3. Giving praise
As humans, we naturally crave praise and commendation. But there's nothing worse than an insincere compliment, or a person who's just going through the motions.
In contrast, authentic commendation--the kind that's specific and shows genuine appreciation--encourages, motivates, and builds trust in your relationship.
4. Delivering negative feedback
Nobody enjoys criticism.
But if you're in the habit of sincerely praising others, they'll gradually see you've got their backs. Then, if you deliver constructive negative feedback at the right place and time, the other person will receive it in the right spirit: as an effort to help.
When we train someone on a task or job, it's extremely helpful to be able to see things from his or her perspective.
That applies literally: The simple action of looking at a workstation from the same vantage point (as opposed to sitting or standing across from the trainee) will make your training more effective.
And it applies figuratively: The more you know about a person's character and experience, the better you can fit the training to the individual, leading to better results.
From the logistical headache of coordinating schedules to the challenge of managing varying personalities, the responsibilities of a team lead are many. But good communication (with empathy in mind) can help. In fact, research organization Gallup concluded that employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged.
So, make time for your people. Schedule regular one-on-ones to see how they're doing, or try a little "management by walking around." As you get to know them individually, you'll learn their personal challenges and identify their natural strengths and weaknesses.
Use that knowledge to inform your decisions, and you'll get the best out of your team.
7. Leading by example
Let's say you need help getting somewhere you've never been.
I could give you step-by-step directions, draw you a map, and provide details about landmarks to look out for.
Or I could say:
"That's not too far out of my way. Why don't you just follow me?"
Do as I say, not as I do never works. In contrast, if you practice what you preach, and are eager to get down in the trenches with your team, you'll leave them inspired.
In other words, quit talking. Start doing.
Leading with empathy means leading by example. In doing so, you'll find that people will follow--not because they have to.
They'll follow because they want to.