Empathy, Leadership, and the communication that binds them
Intelligence is a trait valued dearly in our professional lives. The ability to quickly grasp and implement new skills comes in handy, whatever your profession might be. A sharp mind can help you gain ground. You can always rely on your wit and quick thinking to get you out of unfavorable situations if need be. One thing that is often overlooked though is that there are multiple sides to intelligence. Mere knowledge doesn’t do much when you fail to apply your brain to social interactions (in both personal and professional lives.) This is where emotional intelligence comes into play.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
As leading psychologists, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer say, “emotional intelligence focuses on the individual’s ability to process emotional information and use it to navigate the social environment.”
It involves paying attention to what others say and trying to understand what they feel. Understanding the emotions your peers feel and how these emotions affect them. Empathy is what this is called. You also need to do the same with your emotions.
The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is known as empathy. When you empathise with a person, you don’t try to make sense of their circumstances from your point of view. Rather, you dive in without any former judgments or bias and try to see things from the other human’s viewpoint.
This can help you understand better and may even help in resolving conflicts. When you seek to understand others better, you get significantly more in tune with your own emotions too.
It is hardly a surprise that many successful leaders practice empathy in their everyday life. But why? The reason is as simple as that people want to work with such people.
“It takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently.”
~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Empathy and Leadership.
As a rule, we all wish to be understood. We all have different struggles in life and different priorities. So, when professional leaders willingly choose to be understanding and respectful of our life circumstances, it becomes a significant factor in our professional lives.
Recently, Catalyst conducted a study on the effects of empathetic leadership on 900 employees. The results were truly astounding.
- A whopping 86% of the people who were shown high empathy had a better work-life balance than those who were given low empathy.
- 76% of the employees who were shown empathy reported that they were highly engaged with the happenings of their company, in contrast to the substantially lower engagement in the other category.
Empathetic leadership helped many people in dealing with workspace burnout. Not only does empathy help with the aftereffects of burnout, but employees who are shown sufficient empathy tend to have lower rates of burnout in the first place.
PRO TIP! Udemy defines Power Skills as skills that can’t be replaced by machines. WEF lists leadership, social influence and emotional intelligence amongst power skills needed for 2025, something we wrote about in this blog.
It is obvious that empathy and emotional intelligence can do wonders in your workspace. But how do you go about practicing them? A certain amount of empathy is ingrained in us since childhood. The levels of innate empathy may be different for everyone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to improve these soft skills.
How to be more empathetic
Communication is key. You have probably heard this phrase a thousand times. It holds true for the personal and professional domains. A lot of the time the reason why people fail to empathise is because of a ‘perspective gap’. This is a common phenomenon where people fail to understand the severity of your situation.
Assume there’s a family event that clashes with a conference. The event means a lot to you, but your manager says that such events can be missed. This is a classic example of a perspective gap. What you could do is explain the value of that occasion and how it affects you? You can be a lot clearer about its significance and make them understand your position.
What might be a high consequence to you might feel like a low consequence to them. So, it becomes necessary to make yourself completely clear so that the other party has an idea about what they’re dealing with.
Insider Secret: Much of our work in 2021 was around helping leaders and teams in better conversation skills, EQ for leaders and EQ for team excellence. Our team of specialists is always happy to share best practices, ideas and experiment with clients.
Now let’s swap places. You’re at the other end and someone is trying to explain their situation to you. At such times, it is common to come off as dismissive of their emotions when you say things like “It’s not a big deal” or “Give it time” or “Everyone goes through this”.
If you cannot relate to their situations, relate to their feelings. Doing so will help you empathise with them.
Suppose you have a colleague who looks a little downbeat and you might be concerned about them. You would want to make sure they’re okay, but you’re confused about how to go about it. In such situations, avoid using phrases such as “you look down” or “I am worried about you.” It may signal to them that you already have assumptions about their mental state.
In some cases, such verbal cues might force a person to discuss their problem before they’re emotionally prepared to. Instead, just talk to them casually and listen to what they have to say. Once you have a conversational rapport, you can enquire if there’s something you might help them with.
Adjust your emotions before speaking instead of reacting. When you confront a person, they might say something that goes against your beliefs. Now, you have three options in a situation like this:
- a) You could immediately defend yourself.
- b) You could jump into problem-solving mode.
- c) You can acknowledge what they’re saying and keep a check on your own feelings.
Of course, (c) is the correct option here. It is a very rare thing to convince someone who is upset that what you’re conveying is the correct thing. And it can certainly cannot be achieved by giving in to your emotions. So, (c) allows you a six second pause to give you time to recalibrate your emotions and think about how to respond.
Emotional empathy has often been called a genetic trait. Yet, it doesn’t come naturally to many of us. Even those who are natural empaths need to refine this skill if they wish live optimally – for professional and personal excellence. This makes the constant awareness and practice of empathy even more important.
Empathy in the workspace leads to positive interactions and an increased level of productivity. It is what the times demand of leaders today, and one that will reward you immensely when it becomes a well-used muscle.