We don’t leave our emotions behind when we walk into the office every day. When we show up as ourselves at work, we create space to motivate our team members to do their best work, increase productivity, and overall happiness at work. A 2019 US business survey found that 93 per cent of employees would be more likely to stay with an empathetic employer. While we’re not born with emotional intelligence, it’s a skill that can be learned. “Empathy is the bridge between the personal and social self,” said Dr. Karen Katchen, a Toronto-based psychotherapist. “It’s essential to everything we do in our environments and in the workplace; if it were up to me, empathy would be one of the first things I deal with in a company.” Here are Dr. Katchen’s top tips to lead and manage with empathy:
START WITH YOURSELF
To build competence in communication, you have to understand and manage how to express your own emotions. This ability includes being aware of how your emotions affect other people.
When you become self-aware, you understand your motivations, feelings, goals, and values, which helps others connect with you because you’re being genuine, trustworthy, and reliable. The better you get at managing your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, the more you’ll be able to reach out to another person—it’s an essential building block
MATCH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE WITH YOUR WORDS
When I work with startup teams, we practice the basic elements that go into empathetic listening. We look at how your body language matches your vocal language. We explore how you can ask questions and make comments respectably. We examine how you give and receive feedback. Can you engage in constructive conflict resolution that’s purposeful and positive? These skills need to be practiced, because unless you’ve had the benefit of someone teaching you along the way - the way someone teaches you how to play the piano - it’s unlikely you’re going to pick up a high level of skill incidentally.
Here’s how to put your ability to understand yourself and others into action:
HOW TO RESPOND WITH EMPATHY IN CONFLICT
I recently got a call from a founder. He wanted to give a member of the leadership team feedback about missing a deadline. The founder’s gut response was to say, “you missed the deadline. I’m disappointed. Fix it.” But, that’s an example of being aggressive—this response wouldn’t motivate this person to be open about why the deadline was missed.
STEP ONE: I suggested an empathetic response could be, “I’m aware you missed the deadline. I feel disappointed. I’d like to know more. Can you tell me how that happened?”
When you respond with this tone and approach, you’re curious about the circumstance, not as an excuse, but as an understanding. You want to learn how your employee’s notion of priorities shifted from the shared objective; you’re including the employee in generating a solution.
STEP TWO: The next step in the conversation is to ask, “what do you think we can do about it?” When you ask a question, instead of demanding the employee to fix the problem, you create open dialogue and team work.
WHY THIS WORKS: When you’re genuinely interested in an employee's well-being, you’re not going to be yelling. You’re not going to have an accusatory tone. You’re not going to sit with your arms folded. You’ll have a true interest in understanding the person and circumstance. That’s what empathy is all about. That’s how we build team culture. That’s how we build consistency, authenticity, and generosity. We allow people to do their best and when they mess up, they come forward to remedy the situation without feeling ashamed.
IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT, ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS
If you need to cool off from anger or frustration, take a few minutes in a quiet space to ask yourself some questions. Taking this time for yourself develops the self-awareness to be able to listen to the other person. Here’s a set of questions to keep on a piece of paper on your desk or in your phone:
● How am I feeling about this situation? (for example, anger, irritation, disappointment)
● What is it that’s making me angry, irritated, and disappointed about the situation?
● Is it the situation or the person?
● Am I feeling stressed about something else like finances?
● Am I misplacing it onto this employee, who has missed a deadline?
● How do I plan to handle this situation?
● Do I have all the information I need, or do I need to gather more before setting up a meeting?
These questions help you reflect, so you’re able to step into someone’s shoes and relate to and recognize their feelings.
EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IS ABOUT ASKING FOR HELP
Every decision, every risk, everything you do, involves an emotional component. But, when you leave emotions at the door, you miss rewards like high performance and satisfaction that influence the bottom line.