Empathy – understanding the feeling and emotions someone is feeling as a way to provide solace and support while building understanding and trust – is a critical leadership skill. I’ve written and recorded several messages about empathy in the past few months, because this practice is more important than ever. In the past, I’ve tried to convince you of the importance, and provided you with some tactical skills to help. Today, I want to give you ways to practice empathy as a part of how you lead and live every day.
I call them the Five L’s of Practicing Empathy.
You can’t be empathetic at an emotional distance. Lean in physically and come closer emotionally too. Creating physical (when possible) and emotional closeness creates the possibility for empathy. Leaning in creates a sense of closeness, togetherness and intimacy that will help people feel safe enough to share.
You can’t be empathetic without listening, but you are listening for more than their situation, but for how they are feeling in response to and as a result of the situation. Remember that different people will respond to any situation differently. Knowing the facts doesn’t create empathy. Listen to understand how people feel now and what they are seeing in their future.
We communicate with far more than our words. Maintain focus on the other person, noticing their body language – both when it aligns with their words and when it doesn’t. We can learn so much by simply slowing down to watch.
Empathy isn’t about you and until you can let go of your perspective and judgment it is hard to be empathetic. There is a place for your input, ideas and insight – but that isn’t empathy. As you listen and look, work to understand their reactions and feeling, not to “help” them by sharing yours. Now is the time to focus completely on them and to do that you must let go of your perspective so you can understand theirs.
The practice of empathy is ultimately a practice of learning. In the moment you are learning how the other person feels and how they are responding to their world and situation. In the bigger picture though, as you reflect on the experience you are learning more about that person, humankind and your own views about the world.
Empathy is a practice about the other person – until we can focus our attention and emotions on the other person, we are not able to be truly empathetic. When we do this, we are exhibiting selflessness. Empathy allows us to build trust and connection with others and serve them in important ways.
The greatest beauty in the practice empathy is that as we focus on and hope to be helpful to others, we gain insight, understanding and a fuller view of the world too. As we practice empathy, we may ultimately gain as much as the other person.
Empathy is a valuable leadership skill – one of many highly effective leaders can master. If you would like a proven pathway to develop your leadership skills, consider The Remarkable Way. It is a one month at a time, one skill at a time way to build your leadership skills as you do your work, not by attending long workshops that keep you from your team and your work.
To learn more about this relevant, real life approach to building your leadership skills (and to be surprised at how little time it will take from your calendar), check out The Remarkable Way.