Dulling the Noise: Skills Leaders Should Employ to Calm the Chaos – Part 3
We’re wrapping up our series on skills leaders should employ to calm the chaos. By no means have we posed an exhaustive list, but we highlighted these in our recent feature in HR Tech and wanted to expand upon them in this series. As we’ve highlighted, leveraging effective change facilitation and strong communication skills can improve team performance significantly. However, it’s important to note that without managers also building and extending empathy, change efforts may falter and communication can break down. Empathetic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from challenging circumstances.
What is empathy?
Empathy, also referred to as social awareness, is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the ability to treat people according to their emotional reactions. We don’t talk about empathy in business enough because it seems “touchy feely” or “fluffy.” It’s true, empathy is all about emotions, but according to Daniel Goleman, “The fundamental task of leaders is to prime good feeling in those they lead. That occurs when a leader creates resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people. At its root, then, the primal job of leadership is emotional.”
To intuit what others are feeling, empathetic people read between the lines of what’s said. This makes them especially good at understanding and supporting group dynamics. Leaders with a high level of empathy have the ability to pick up on the emotions of others and really understand what’s going on with them; even when their thinking and feelings are different. But let’s be clear about an important boundary:
– Empathy doesn’t mean trying to please everybody—that is impossible.
– It does mean considering other people’s feelings when making decisions.
How do I build empathy?
The good news is, for managers and leaders who sense they may lack empathy, it’s a skill that can be honed. Building empathy involves:
• Looking at situations from alternate points of view. Try stepping out of the weeds at a meeting where you can simply observe and offer guidance from a place of neutrality. This enlightened place in which you can put yourself in other people’s shoes isn’t always comfortable, but it creates an awareness of the emotions within the group and heightens your empathy.
• Observance of team dynamics and individual emotions. Misunderstandings can flare up quickly when people’s basic assumptions differ. Empathy provides an antidote. Empathetic people gain understanding from body language and other cues, and they have a good feel for cultural differences.
• Active listening. We discussed active listening in our previous post in this series, but it’s important to note again. When we listen to others, we may subconsciously let our personal tendencies hear what we want to hear. To avoid this and build empathy, follow the model of Hear, Interpret, Evaluate, Respond.
Leaders who manage with empathy increase satisfaction and reduce turnover. So while the primary job of the leader is an emotional one, building empathy and becoming attuned to emotions can drive significant cost savings and productivity for the business. That’s how a “fluffy” subject such as empathy can pay dividends to an organization in the long run. Extending empathy in times of crisis builds trust and trust drives loyalty. Both will be critical coming out of the pandemic as organizations seek to refocus and execute on long-term strategic goals and plans.
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