Today’s life events, and their impacts, are taking up more, and more, mind space of our colleagues – perhaps more so than in the past 20 years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index rose 7.9% from February 2021 through February 2022, with inflation hitting its highest number since 1982. With typical gas prices well over $4.00 a gallon, and in some parts of the country now breaching $6.00 a gallon, people across the board are feeling the stress. Adding onto the financial impacts the average American is experiencing, is the weight of global uncertainty as it relates to the stability of peace.
Workers in every company, in every job, have a lot on their minds. To ignore or dismiss the impact these emotions and experiences are having on your colleagues lives is shortsighted. This is where leadership empathy becomes critical.
Empathy is an often-misunderstood skill. It amazes me how many people still confuse empathy with sympathy. The dictionary defines sympathy as feeling sorry for someone’s loss, trouble, or grief, while empathy is understanding another person’s experiences or emotions.
Empathy allows us to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to connect and understand, with the goal of bridging gaps. This skill requires strong active listening skills, broad perspectives, and structured thinking. Empathy is not about excusing, as much as it is about recognizing circumstance(s). It’s less about lecturing and more about solutioning. True empathy leads to better connections, better relationships, and stronger bonds of trust.
I often think of the famous quote, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.”. The ability to demonstrate empathy, especially during troubling times, is a trust enabler. Of course, that assumes that the empathy being demonstrated is real…genuine.
Empathy allows leaders to engage with their teams to recognize the current external inputs each of us is facing today and how it may be impacting our colleague’s behaviors, outcomes, or productivity. Creating and maintaining a high performing team requires many skills, with empathy being at the top of the list. Recognize the intensity of incoming signals your teammates are absorbing today and look for ways to bridge the gaps. The most important signal you can send to your team is that you too are human.