Leading with Empathy
Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another
The need for empathetic leaders isn’t new, but the changes forced on organisations by the COVID crisis have uncovered those leaders who lack this essential workplace skill.
But what is empathy? Psychologists have defined the three types of empathy that we most commonly see in the workplace: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.
Also known as ‘perspective-taking’, cognitive empathy is where an individual is able to put themselves in the shoes of another and see their perspective. It’s a rational and logical thought process, which doesn’t require them to feel the emotions that person is experiencing, but they can understand them. With support through training and coaching, the individual is able to improve through better social and emotional awareness. They are able to identify and attend to mood changes in others, be observant, attentive and considerate.
This is where you are able to feel the emotions of another, not just to recognise or know how that emotion manifests itself. It’s where you may automatically smile or grimace based on the smile or grimace of the person you are with. Having emotional empathy allows us to respond appropriately in the company of others – a type of herd instinct perhaps.
However, too much emotional empathy can cause an individual to feel overwhelmed, especially when under pressure. Burnout can happen when someone emotionally empathises too much and is unable to regulate their own response. Perhaps they are too considerate of others and fail to attend to their own needs. Or perhaps are too reflective, rendering them unable to move forward. Some will seek to control their emotional response to the point where they become hard and uncaring as their attempt at self-protection crosses a line. Either scenario is a dangerous zone for a leaders who needs to positively engage their people.
If neither cognitive nor emotional empathy are what a good leader needs, then what is? The answer lies in compassionate empathy.
This is the ability to feel the pain or distress of another AND take action to ease it. This is the most appropriate form of empathy that leaders need both day-to-day and especially when under pressure – feeling concern and able to do something constructive about it.
Employees don’t usually need hand-wringing sympathy from their leaders. They can get that from friends and family. Their leaders need to understand their pain, the root cause of it and have the ability to take action to resolve the issues that may be affecting their wellbeing in the workplace.
Leaders who have good compassionate empathy are able to balance their cognitive empathy or logical approach to what someone is feeling with their own ability to feel that emotion in order to take constructive action to remedy the case.
Use flowprofiler® to develop empathy in your leaders
Leaders can improve their compassionate empathy by improving their emotional intelligence and social intelligence. Core to this are the skills of emotional awareness and regulation, social awareness and a regard for others. Having greater self-confidence will give them inner strength to help others facing challenges with self-assurance, not arrogance.
eqflow® from flowprofiler® delivers rich insights to help organisations develop and recruit for emotional and social intelligence in their people. Use it as part of your recruitment, development and coaching strategy to create the strong all-round performers that will help your organisation to thrive through and beyond the current COVID crisis.