Empathy – just compassion or a true leadership instrument?

When did you first hear the word empathy? Did you understand right away from the context what it could mean or did you have to inquire? In fact, the word has been around for over 150 years. Lately, it has been used in almost an inflationary way, often with a partial understanding of the precise meaning.

We do not translate or explain easily in one word what it is, but we feel distinctly if someone has it or not. It does not matter whether this person is a boss, employee, parent, child, friend, teacher, coach or e.g. a professional health service provider. Something deep inside us normally recognizes right away whether we are in good hands with them, appreciated and understood or not. If the other person responds to our emotions with understanding, we feel a positive vibe, a spontaneous trust toward them, a possibility of cooperation, a sense of safety.

Empathy consists of compassion, genuine interest and active listening. We fully respond to the person who is sharing their concern with us and acknowledge their experience. We do not draw comparisons, we don’t put our own experience in the center and do not give unsolicited advice. This is exactly where many of us fail.

How and when do you show empathy towards others? In what situation do you expect others to show you empathy? If you hear the word, who do you think of first? Is empathy more of a character trait, an emotion or a behavior? Do you believe that empathy can be learned or trained and is important for relationships and success in life?

I am convinced that empathy is to a great extent a natural predisposition that has a lot to do with how positively we perceive ourselves, how balanced and generally content we are, but also how well we can focus on others. It will rarely show up in people who are constantly preoccupied with themselves. Empathy cannot emerge out of a mere sense of duty or appropriateness, either. It is not like a pair of eyeglasses that you deliberately put on and remove again. Fake empathy is usually recognized quickly.

Nowadays, managers are advised to show empathy because this has a positive effect on the satisfaction of the employees, on customer loyalty and, ultimately, on the overall success of the enterprise. But there is still a long way to go. The underlying opinion among executives that autocratic methods and placing yourself at the center are a sign of strength still seems to be widespread. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are many ways to express empathy, depending on the environment and the target group you are confronted with as a leader. As we know, there will be no second chance to make a first impression, therefore, it is wise to prepare carefully. Why not receive some useful tips in a leadership empathy training session tailored to your needs!

In the meantime, may you find your own expression of empathy and stand by it! You will witness how your world will then change.

Best wishes, Tatjana Gaspar