Empathy is critical for any leader. It is a skill that helps you better understand customers, stakeholders, and team dynamics. The insights you receive from having empathy enable you to solve problems efficiently, allowing you, as a leader, to deliver great results.
Empathetic leadership is the most appreciated leadership style today, simply because an empathetic leader has more than his own perspective. This empowers him with flexibility compared with the rigidity tough leaders display. Leaders like Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, are shining examples of how well empathetic leadership works.
Empathy is not a skill that can be developed overnight. If it were, it would have been so easy, and slightly not so special. For most of us, it takes a lot of work. Here are five ways you can develop your empathy muscle:
Develop curiosity about the people and the organizations that you’re involved with, even if you are looking at a process or customer experience or a strategy. Have genuine interest in what is going on around you. When you’re curious about how others solve a particular problem or what approaches someone else takes, you begin to understand their point of view. And once you understand that, developing empathy is not so far away.
Remove Your Biases
Every one of us has biases. We might be influenced or conditioned to think in a certain manner or have a certain opinion by the environment we’ve been in for so many years. And if you think you don’t have any biases, it is more than likely that you’re wrong. It is often good to think more deeply about something – think once, twice or more – to ensure that your bias isn’t at work when you make a major decision. Make this a practice and slowly, you will learn to think objectively. The more you distance yourself from your biases, the better you become in developing empathy.
Walk in Their Shoes
If you’re interacting with your customer, partner, or your employee, make sure you walk in their shoes for some time to understand them and their perspectives. It helps you understand what they’re going through. What kinds of problems are they facing? What causes these problems? What are their pain points?
The more you understand them, the more you want to help them solve their problems, and the more you develop empathy towards them.
Listen to Understand
Communication these days, unfortunately, is a one-way street. It is yet largely unknown that listening is also a major part of communication. But when you listen, don’t listen to respond. Listen to understand. And always listen with the assumption that you’re wrong. This ensures that your existing understanding or bias doesn’t get in the way while you listen to understand. The person who is talking to you deserves your undivided attention, so focus and listen.
Develop a Strong Imagination
Developing a strong imagination is also quintessential to developing empathy. Good imagination helps you visualize problems others face and their possible solutions.
The biggest impediment to an active imagination is boundaries. We set rules and limits, and confine our thinking to a box. Once limits are set, imagination itself becomes limited. You can develop a strong imagination by removing these constraints. The more constraints you remove, the more vivid your imagination becomes. Having a strong imagination enables you to solve problems without constraints.
So by working on these five points, we can build a strong empathy muscle that helps us solve problems efficiently for customers and stakeholders. It is an essential leadership skill that will enable you to become a better leader who is more empathetic and delivers great results.