Empathy at Work
Why empathy is vital if you’re to deliver effective team building, leadership and training
Empathy is the ability to pick up on, and understand, what others are thinking and feeling. This is a very different concept to sympathy, which means feeling sorry for someone – whether you understand why they feel the way they do or not. Empathy is all about understanding and insight. For example, you’d almost certainly feel sorry for a friend who had just lost their father, but would be unable to truly empathise with them unless you had lost a loved one of your own. Empathy means being able to see the world through another person’s eyes.
If you are an empathetic person, you’ll be sensitive to the feelings of others and naturally do what you can to avoid hurting them. Too little empathy and you’ll run the risk of repeatedly hurting or offending people. Too much empathy and you’ll find yourself overprotecting them.
Say, for example, that a team member’s work had fallen significantly below the standards expected of them, to the extent that colleagues and clients were raising concerns about them. If you empathised with them too much, you’d struggle to have that difficult conversation with them and make it clear that they urgently needed to improve the quality of their work. You can’t be seen to be lacking in kindness and compassion, but you need to be willing to exert discipline whenever necessary. This way you’ll start developing effective leadership and training skills. Working with an executive coach can help you achieve this balance.
Try this self-check with someone you trust deeply, or during a corporate team building exercise if you’re especially comfortable in that environment. The next time something serious happens, whether that’s good or bad, see if you can pick up exactly how they feel about it. Ask them, and see if you were accurate. The more you do this, the more receptive you’ll become to what others are thinking and feeling and thus your level of empathy will naturally increase.
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