Empathy Skills for Leadership

Empathy, shown by a manager or senior leader, can be the difference between productive employees and high turnover. Learn the 7 empathy skills your leadership team needs to create a mentally healthy culture within your organization.

It’s a common belief that “employees don’t leave companies—they leave managers.” And it may be for good reason. Team leaders set the tone, dynamic, expectations, and safety-level (both physically and mentally) for employees.

Developing your leadership team’s empathy skills may be difficult. But it’s not impossible. These skills can be taught and put into practice. Which will have resounding outcomes on your organization’s culture.

7 Empathy Skills Your Leadership Team Needs to Cultivate

While empathy skills often apply to in-the-moment situations, there are elements that should be practiced in every interaction. Proactively doing so helps build trust and enhances relationships within the team. For that reason, we have split these empathy skills for leaders into two categories: in all interactions, and in-the-moment situations.

In all interactions

Demonstrate genuine care for the wellbeing of your employees.

This may be the most impactful empathy skill for leading a mentally healthy team. Which is why it’s so important to actively practice every day, whether in-person or remote. Demonstrating genuine care includes:

  • Taking the time to ask employees about their day.
  • Recognizing their value to the team. (It’s often the day-to-day activities that go unnoticed but are so important to the success of the organization.)
  • Showing interest in learning about their hobbies outside of work.
  • Asking how they’re feeling about their workload, projects, work-life balance, flexibility, etc.
  • Creating opportunities for them to share new ideas and solutions.

Be present and focused.

Actions speak louder than words. When interacting with colleagues, put away the phone and close the laptop. Make eye contact. Stay involved in the conversation instead of easily getting distracted. The effort of being present shows your employee that you value their input and care about what they have to say.

In-the-moment (when there’s concern)

Proactively ask questions.

It’s a natural human tendency to relate to someone’s experience by talking about a time you had a similar experience. The problem with this approach is it takes the focus off the person and re-centers the conversation on you. A great way around this is to ask questions to get the individual to share more of how they’re feeling. In turn, it will help them feel heard, respected, and important.

Listen to understand—not to respond.

So often, within the first few words of someone’s comment, people have already pre-loaded their follow-up response. This is where most miscommunication begins. Instead, ask a question and listen to understand their response. Recognize what their tone, word choice, and body language is also revealing.

Be curious; not judgmental.

As a manager, you will likely be exposed to all different types of personalities, cultures, lived experiences, and more. That’s why a critical component of empathy skills is to be open minded.

Connect through emotion.

If appropriate, mirror the energy and emotion of your employee. When they’re sad, feel that sadness with them. And if they’re excited about something, get excited with them. If they’re mad, you can validate their feelings by conveying that you understand why they are feeling that way.

Act with compassion.

Managers who are dismissive, unsupportive, judgmental, or avoid confrontation are the opposite of compassionate. Those who see their employees as individual humans with important lives outside of work are better able to act and make supportive decisions for the good of both the employee and the organization

Empathy Skills Require Ongoing Leadership Training

Like any skill, empathy takes consistent practice. And there’s often room for growth. Your EAP can provide virtual or on-site training for your leadership team, managers, and/or employees. Bringing fresh ideas and approaches by leading experts will ensure greater engagement and value. Ultimately, helping your organization thrive.

For more information, click here to learn how you can partner with Carebridge EAP to create a mentally healthier culture in your organization.

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Colorful infographic with icons shows the 7 empathy skills for leadership.