Guest Post by Brett Farmiloe
I’ve been lucky enough to encounter empathy many times in my life. In fact, I was shown the most empathy when I left my job as an accountant to pursue my dream of starting my own company. Proposing this wild dream to my wife was nerve-wracking because of the uncertainty that comes with leaving a stable job. To my surprise and delight she was 100% on board, and in retrospect, I understand why — she was empathizing with me. No one wants to work a job that they dread, so it’s difficult to turn around and encourage a loved one to stay at a job that they despise. Now that my dream has become a reality, I try to make empathy a core value for my company. Below are some of the best practices I’ve found to create a more empathetic leadership system.
Empathy in Business
From a basic business perspective, empathy is extremely helpful. Empathy allows you to know if you’re reaching your audience. This audience can be your customer, your client, or your employees. This will allow you to adjust your company’s game plan, and strategize effectively to reach your core audience because you will be able to think like they are thinking. Prudy Gourguechon also makes a great point in her article for Forbes, that empathy will also help you during a sales pitch to a client, or a potential client. You will have a better idea of what their desires are, and how risk-averse they might be.
Empathy and The Team
Empathy breeds cohesiveness and trust. Looking around and knowing “everyone around me tries to understand how I’m feeling and what matters to me” is a great helper in building a cohesive team environment. This can be swapped around to a leadership perspective as well, being able to know how your employees will react to something before it happens is paramount in you being able to adjust accordingly before their reaction.
Developing Your Empathetic Side
But now, what happens if you don’t classify yourself as “empathetic”? Don’t worry, there’s a little bit of empathy in almost all of us! According to Happify, 99% of us know how to empathize. Don’t be the 1% here, as previously mentioned they are considered psychopaths. Recognizing that you struggle to empathize with people is half the battle here, and there are things you can do to change this. Use these tools to remind yourself to be empathetic when interacting with employees, coworkers, and anyone you may talk to.
- Listen without interrupting
- Imagine how the other person is feeling (Don’t fall into the trap of thinking how you’d feel in their situation, what may make you frustrated may make them sad and vice versa. Really put yourself into their shoes.)
- Reflect back to them with a statement like: “What I hear you saying is…”
- Validate their feelings: “I understand you’re feeling…”
- Show support, and close the conversation
Don’t be afraid if these seem next to impossible at first. Like all skills, becoming a more empathetic leader takes time. Start with a few of these points, and begin to build upon them. Trust me, with some practice these will become second nature!
Wherever your barometer for empathizing may be, I want everyone to take away from this that they possess the ability to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” Knowing you have that ability is the first step to better honing this essential leadership skill. Happy empathizing!
Brett Farmiloe is the CEO of digital marketing company, Markitors, and advisor to career resource, Data Science Degrees. He is a regular contributor to Huffington Post and Forbes, and also enjoys tending his backyard vegetable patch.