In this article we look at empathy. Empathy relates to how well a person is able to recognize and understand how someone else is feeling. Being able to “put yourself in their shoes” and see things from their perspective. This does not mean to feel sorry for them, but rather to appreciate what they might be experiencing.
Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry with and for someone. This could potentially keep them at victim of something having happened to them for longer. Empathy allows one to understand how and why they may be feeling a certain way, but not necessarily feeling that same feeling for them.
The best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other. – Dali Lama
Higher Range vs Lower Range Empathy
Imagine the following situation – A staff member has a mother that is terminally ill and close to passing away. They ask their manager if they could work from home some days, as it would help them to be closer to their mom and to help with her care. “Even if it is one day a week, I would greatly appreciate it.” The manager does not respond much, other than a nod and a grunt to say yes.
The manager in this case may not be that concerned about the staff member working from home as they always get their work done on time. Rather, the manager just does not exhibit any empathy and is insensitive to the emotional needs of the staff member. He is rather dismissive instead of coming across as caring and understanding.
People who score in the higher range of empathy are able to see beyond their own feelings and look at situations from another’s perspective.
• Sensitive to the feelings of others.
• Able to anticipate and understand the reactions of others.
• Easily pick up on social cue’s and react accordingly.
• People orientated and can prioritize emotions and feelings over facts.
People who score in the lower range of empathy are likely to focus on their own perspective and may struggle to understand other people’s views.
They are more likely to:
• Find it difficult to understand other people’s feelings.
• Have difficulties relating to others and be surprised by another person’s reactions.
• Misread social cues leading to misunderstandings.
• Prioritize facts over feelings and lack compassion.
Impact On The Workplace
Empathy can be an important trait to foster. Particularly in the development of interpersonal relationships. Empathy relates positively to job performance, as it improves our interactions with others, leading to more effective communication and positive outcomes. It can also be very important in managing disputes in the workplace as one can see the issue from another’s point of view.
Those who fall within the higher range of empathy are likely able to build good interpersonal working relationships and are likely to:
• Be aware of how their team members feel within their working roles.
• Be interested in helping and supporting colleagues who are experiencing difficulties.
• Want to help their colleagues resolve any issues that may arise.
• Desire to resolve any workplace conflict amicably with the aim of maintaining positive and productive workplace relationships.
• Work well with people within and outside their organizations, building positive relationships and more intuitive communication.
People who have high empathy in the workplace tend to approach their colleagues with support and sensitivity. Honing an open and responsive workplace atmosphere.
People who fall in the lower range of empathy in the workplace are more likely to struggle in understanding the feelings of their colleagues and they could potentially:
• Come across as not caring or realising if they upset colleagues or clients.
• Struggle to read social cues and be insensitive to colleagues’ feelings leading to misunderstandings and challenging interpersonal relationships.
• Have difficulties in using their intuition and they may struggle to communicate effectively. Unable to vary their communication style depending on who they are talking to.
• May not understand why and if a colleague is facing difficulties, and then not knowing how to help them resolve it.
While high empathy may seem a very positive and preferable trait to have, difficulties can arise when someone is over empathetic. Example, prioritizing another person’s feelings over and to the detriment of oneself, or what is necessary to do for the benefit of the organisation. They may put more energy into friendships and discussing personal issues with colleagues, than focusing on their work.
“Leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways.” – Daniel Goleman
Impact In Leadership
Leaders who are empathetic are more likely to connect and appreciate their team. Creating better relationships and give individual direction and support.
They are more likely to care about the well-being of their staff and the success of their team. If difficulties arise their aim is likely to resolve issues in a productive way. They understand that a positive resolution to both personal and work issues will result in better team performance. A staff member that feels “understood and appreciated” is more likely to give more and not just be a clock watcher.
It is however very important that leaders balance the needs of their staff, with the needs of the organization. A leader that focuses more on the feelings of staff, may neglect the needs of the organization. They may also struggle to give constructive feedback to staff, as they don’t want to hurt their feelings.
Imagine someone who is in the higher range empathy, high interpersonal relationships and low independence. They might struggle to make difficult decisions that would benefit the organization but may be hard for a team member. The leader may allow poor workplace behaviour to continue without addressing this due to being over-sensitivity to the team member’s needs.
On the other hand, leaders who score low in empathy may struggle to understand their team members and find it more difficult to build positive interpersonal relationships with them. They may not recognize when staff members are experiencing personal or professional difficulties.
Imagine a leader that scores high in self-actualisation, low in emotional-expression and low in empathy. They may find it challenging to give constructive feedback without coming across cold, blunt and uncaring. They may not know how to help their staff manage the emotional consequences of critical feedback. This could potentially create a resentful workplace dynamic that harms the organization. Team members may even leave the company as they their manager is not a “people person.”
We have seen that empathy is important in the workplace as it fosters understanding and trust between people. Whether it be leaders and staff members, or staff with clients. With appropriate empathy, the organisation benefits as people are able to connect and understand each other much better and at a much deeper level.
Whilst this might sound “fluffy,” it is the basis of good, productive and lasting relationships. Both with colleagues and clients. As a leader, it is especially important to build and hone one’s empathy skills in the current times.
If you feel that this is an area that you or someone you know may want to work on, then help is at hand.
On completion of the emotional intelligence assessment, we will work together to understand where you may sit on each of the subscales of EI. We can then work with you to increase the specific areas that you feel will have the most immediate and positive impact in your life.
The emotional intelligence assessment is done online and followed up with a face-to-face coaching session, which can be done via Zoom or in person.
Working on one’s EI can lead to significant positive results in all areas of life. Not only making one over all happier, but more effective and approachable
It all starts with a simple yet immensely powerful online assessment.
To find out more about how your organization can benefit, contact us today for a no-obligation conversation.