There are just as many excuses for not engaging in such practices. One of the most common I hear from wayward leaders and entrepreneurs is that “I’m just not built that way.”
Science doesn’t support that assertion.
A study from Cambridge University–the largest study ever conducted for determining whether one’s ability to show empathy and compassion is dependent upon genetics–showed that the ability to do so is only 10 percent genetic. In other words, 90 percent of the time, the trait can be learned.
Which is important because of just how powerful empathy is. It has an immeasurable depth and breadth of impact, even on the wielder. It’s what makes it the greatest form of emotional intelligence.
Inc.com columnist Justin Bariso, an emotional intelligence expert, defines empathy as:
Understanding others’ thoughts and feelings to help you connect with them. Instead of judging or labeling others, you work hard to see things through their eyes. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with another person’s point of view. Rather, it’s about striving to understand.
With that in mind, here are seven forms of empathy you can practice to deeply connect and earn respect:
1. Situational empathy
This means continually seeing situations through eyes other than your own and avoiding knee-jerk reactions. Rather than getting frustrated with an employee who blew a presentation, seek to understand why. Rather than assuming the worst about an employee who is chronically late, understand the core reason behind the tardiness.
You get the idea.
The more you practice situational empathy, the more it becomes a default approach for almost any situation. It’s the centerpiece of others-oriented leadership.
2. Empathy for the impact of your decisions
Leaders, especially entrepreneurs, have to make decisions in rapid-fire fashion, sometimes in a silo. Have awareness of how your decisions affect “the rest of the assembly line,” especially those most directly affected by the decision.
Some of the most frustrating leaders I ever worked for had no regard for how their decisions would impact their constituents. It can be as easy as enrolling others before you make a decision or at least communicating why you made the decision you did and showing understanding for how that decision might have “side effects.”
3. Empathy for the employee plight
Employees want to learn and grow, do meaningful work, be valued and respected, and have career opportunities. If you want to earn the trust and love of your team, care about all of this. And show it.
I’ve always tried to practice the sentiment that the company exists first to serve its employees, not the other way around.
4. Empathy for the past
All too often I’ve seen brash new leaders come into a leadership role and quickly get to work trashing the past in an attempt to show the future will be brighter. In so doing, they forget that most of the people they’re addressing were part of that past, some still intricately tied to it.
Show compassion by carefully framing how you talk about the past, crafting your comments with respect.
5. Empathy for different communication styles
We don’t all get across our ideas in the same way. Early in my career, I remember losing patience with an engineer who was very meticulous and deliberately slow in getting across his thoughts. Likewise with an ad agency creative who was disjointed and rapid-fire in communicating her ideas.
But I learned that at the core, they had really good things to say, if I would just have empathy and patience for their communication styles (which differed from mine).
6. Communal empathy
Empathetic leaders care and are intentional about how a team comes together. Is the team bonding into a cohesive unit? What issues is it facing? Is there a destructive personality on the team causing chemistry problems? The first step is to care enough to pay attention to team dynamics. Then, there are plenty of ways to build camaraderie and strengthen teamwork.
7. Projected empathy
This means showing care and concern for how the organization as an entity shows up to employees and stakeholders. Companies voted “Best Places to Work” often have a common thread, an intentional effort to engage employees in community outreach efforts and to have a crisp company purpose that’s about something bigger than the company.
In other words, the leaders care about the perception and reality of how their company shows up to external stakeholders as well as its employees. You can too.
Learning and showing empathy is an unmistakable sign of emotional intelligence. It’s also just plain intelligent.