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What’s The Deal With Empathy?


Ok, I’m just going to say it….if you are working on leadership development, emotional intelligence is a crucial part of any leader’s developmental strategy. And if we agree on that, the next step is to acknowledge that empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence.

I personally have had a lot of questions about empathy lately. What is it exactly? How does it apply to the workplace? Why would anyone want to strengthen this competency?

Let’s start with the definition (thanks to The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. Synonyms: affinity, appreciation, being on same wavelength, being there for someone, community of interests, compassion, comprehension, insight.

Simply put, empathy is the ability to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, being aware of their feelings and needs. Why is empathy important in the workplace? While there are many reasons, here’s three to consider:

1. Job Performance
The Center for Creative Leadership analyzed data from 6,731 managers from 38 countries. These leaders had at least three subordinates rate them on four questions that measured the display of empathic emotion. Each manager in the sample also had one boss who rated them on three items that measured job performance. The results revealed that empathy is positively related to job performance. Managers who show more empathy toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. (for more information, click here to see A White Paper:Empathy In The Workplace.)

2. Talent Retention
“Leaders have always needed empathy to develop and keep good people, but whenever there is a war for talent, the stakes are higher. Of all the factors in a company’s control, tuned out, dissonance leaders are one of the main reasons that talented people leave-and take the company’s knowledge with them.” (Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman)

3. Stronger Teams
When we are empathic with those on our team, we understand them. Understanding them, we know their fears, their challenges, their gifts and what motivates them. As leaders, when we have this deeper understanding, we know how to support them and what is needed for them to succeed and achieve their goals.

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