Adding more empathy skills to your management tool kit doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to solve problems more quickly or avoid difficult management situations with employees. However, leading with more empathy can build greater trust and connection with your employees, decrease the chance that conflict will escalate, and lay the foundation for more satisfied and productive teams. So, even if you don’t consider yourself an expert on empathy, check out these simple steps you can take as a manager to level up your empathy skills!
If you are a manager or leader in your organization, can you relate to the research findings below?
The responsibilities of managers — and the number of workers who report to them — have skyrocketed lately, making it more difficult to provide direct hands-on assistance. According to research from Gartner, 70% of HR leaders say managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities. This is compounded by the fact that many organizations have now shifted to post-pandemic remote or hybrid workplace models where they may rarely, if ever, see the employees they manage in person.
“As such, employees are turning to their colleagues for the help and advice they would have traditionally sought from a manager. “Employees feel like their managers know less about their day-to-day work than their peers and coworkers do, so employees are more likely to turn to their coworkers to get advice and job coaching,” says Brian Kropp, Chief of Research at Gartner. “This creates an environment where the average employee gets more value out of their peer relationships than their managerial relationship.””
Don’t despair though! The role of manager is not obsolete. In fact, in order to deal with this phenomenon of employees looking to their colleagues more than their manager for support means that organizations need to better equip their managers to operate in a more empathetic way. Managing with empathy doesn’t mean that you agree with everything your employee does or that they aren’t accountable for workplace goals. Rather, leading with empathy is about connecting to your employees as humans who need support, compassion, and guidance from managers who care. So, even if you don’t consider yourself an expert on empathy, you might wonder what simple steps you can take as a manager to level up your empathy skills.
First, prioritize curiosity over assumptions. Ask questions that invite vulnerability and transparency. Avoid assuming you know what your employees are experiencing or what they need. Instead ask open-ended questions that invite them to share.
Help employees surface what’s really going on and what’s most important to them. Look for the root cause of an employee’s behavior without making judgements. After asking questions, summarize what you hear and ask if you’ve got it right and how you can help.
Keep the focus on them rather than you. Listen more than you talk. Try to avoid sharing or comparing your own stories or experiences, even if they are similar. By keeping the focus on the employee, you help them to feel heard and better understood.
Acknowledge feelings. Contrary to past management philosophy, the workplace can’t possibly be a place devoid of emotions. Employees are complex people who experience personal and professional challenges every day that they may not be able to leave at the door when they arrive at work. As an empathetic leader, you can demonstrate the social-emotional intelligence necessary to understand the feelings of another in big and small ways. Start by simply stating what emotion you think your employee may be feeling by saying something like, “I can see how overwhelming this must feel for you,” or “I can hear how frustrated this situation is.” If they say you’ve got it wrong, don’t argue and instead ask them to clarify how they are feeling and thank them for sharing with you.
Adding more empathy skills to your management tool kit doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to solve problems more quickly or avoid difficult management situations with employees. However, leading with more empathy can build greater trust and connection with your employees, decrease the chance that conflict will escalate, and lay the foundation for more satisfied and productive teams.