Hello SOTGC community!
Empathy is an exceptional part of the human connectedness that brings meaning to our everyday interactions and relationships in life. Growing up, I always thought of it as the ability to place one’s self in another person’s shoes. It is an attempt to understand experiences, thoughts, and feelings from someone else’s point of reference and vantage point. It is to vicariously experience the thoughts and attitudes of another; an effort to imagine what someone else’s experience of life might be like.
To be a leader is, in many ways, to understand people. It is here that one can draw a connection between successful leadership communication (in other words, effective “leadership talk”) and empathy. Conveying empathy through leadership is key, and it can be thoughtfully incorporated into one’s leadership communication style by keeping a few things in mind.
The first step to take in attempting to understand someone else’s point of view is simply asking! Next time you find yourself in a leadership role, whether it be facilitating a meeting, mentoring someone, or conducting a focus group, remember to encourage and foster an environment of sharing and open communication. Although it may seem quite obvious, it is important to remember that the easiest way to start putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is to ask about how they are feeling, what they are experiencing, and what they are thinking. As a leader, this dialogue is of unequivocal importance in understanding the perspective of the people you are leading and thus incorporating empathy into one’s leadership style.
As one attempts to understand another’s thoughts and feelings, it helps to recap, reiterate, and check in. As a leader, a great communication skill to practice and adopt is the ability to recap, reiterate, and check in periodically. This allows leaders to ensure that they are truly understanding what others are expressing and feeling. Touching base with a phrase such as, “We’ve discussed quite a bit so far and I just want to make sure we’re on the same page. What I’m hearing is …” allows leaders to not only ensure their own understanding of a situation, but also sends the message that they place importance on understanding the people they are working with. If something is unclear, one can also ask for clarification. “Tell me more about that” is a simple phrase that can work in this respect.
Validation is also truly important in ensuring that one’s “leadership talk” is empathetic. Although the concept of empathy, as I defined it above, has as its foundation the attempt to understand others’ experiences of life through their perspective, its practice ultimately also involves a significant element of compassion. To lead with empathy is thus not only to understand another’s point of view but to also express interest in another’s perspective and do so with compassion and thoughtfulness. A great way to accomplish this is to incorporate validation into one’s “leadership talk.” Validation is ultimately to use language in a way to communicate to someone that you not only hear what they are saying, attempting to understand what they are feeling, but also accepting their right to the feelings they are experiencing. Placing focus on validation creates a culture where individuals not only feel comfortable in discussing their own thoughts and emotions, but they also feel comfortable in supporting others in their sharing of feelings.
Dearest SOTGC community, I leave you with the following quote by Sue Monk Kidd, as I hope you are inspired to focus on empathy as you continue to lead others in your day-to-day interactions: “Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it’s accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another’s eyes or heart.”
My dearest SOTGC community, I hope this post has encouraged you to think of empathy as a key factor in successful “leadership talk.” To communicate well as a leader is in large part to communicate with empathy. If this post resonated with you, share it with your friends, family and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter! I’d also love to hear from you about how you define empathy and how you incorporate empathy into your own communication style as a leader! Share your ideas in the comment section below!