In an ever-changing work dynamic for your team, the skill of empathy has become an important tool in caring for your people so they feel respected, valued; and stick around longer as a result. Rarely does a command to a leader to “be more empathic,” stick in a meaningful way. 

The term is dependent on the person’s experience and definition

People’s understanding and definition of the term empathy are really all over the place and are highly dependent on their personal journeys and experiences. Some people think of empathy as simply active listening. Others may classify it as transparency and fairness, while additional leaders may consider empathy as being inclusive and supporting mental health. 

With all the confusion on what empathy is, it can cause misalignment between you and others if you define the term and expectations differently. Take time to learn and understand what empathy means to the other person and have them share some examples if possible. If there are gaps, help the person see the opportunities so that you are starting from the same place and can align on the next steps and measure growth and success. 

Help them stay other-focused

Showing empathy is a great way to build social connections, trust, and rapport with another person. It’s important for your leader to have awareness and understand that as they feel empathy for another person, they understand that the feeling that they resonate with is the other person’s and not their own. There are strong examples of this in the healthcare and medicine fields. Connecting with a family member after someone passes away, or a vet who euthanizes a family pet are times when the person likely understands and can relate to the grief and pain – “I know how you feel” but they also understand that what they are connecting with someone else’s emotions and they are not their own. 

Help your leaders protect themselves from empathic distress

When the line of other-focused becomes blurred in empathy we take on the feeling and internalize it as our own pain and epatetic distress occurs. In the veterinarian example, if they can’t distinguish between the grief of the family and their own grief in a similar situation, the vet may rush the family through the process and pull themselves back and away immediately afterward as a result. 

The result is that the vet has negatively impacted the already sensitive situation and is now a burden that both parties will carry going forward. This will also likely impact the vet’s quality of work for the rest of the day if they continue to hold onto the emotion. 

Coach your leaders to make the connection, but to be aware and protect the boundary between other-focused and internalizing and taking on the emotions of others. 

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources from the show and site to help you continue to explore the topic of empathy:

Empathy, Sympathy, and Pity (Show 261) We break down the difference between the three words and how and when you leverage them as you engage with others. 

Roadblocks to empathy (Show 247) We cover three common barriers to hold us back from being truly empathetic with others. 

Tips to grow your empathy (Show 246) Actionable and tangible tips to grow and strengthen your empathy with others. 

Understanding empathy (Show 245) Here we discuss what empathy is, what it isn’t, and the three different types of empathy. 

Remember that empathy is about connecting with others on an emotional level and demonstrating that you care about their well-being. It’s a skill that can be developed and improved over time with practice, and it’s essential for building more meaningful and supportive relationships. When you help your leaders become more empathetic in a healthy way, everyone wins. 

Make a better tomorrow.