Empathy is the foundation of building trusting relationships. When you are empathetic, you can see the world from a different perspective, understand other people's feelings, and connect with them in meaningful ways. Empathy is a foundational building block of meaningful social interaction. It helps us communicate our ideas in a way that makes sense to others and understand others when they communicate with us.How do we learn to communicate with empathy, and why is it an essential skill for those in leadership positions?As a business leader, you may focus on hard skills—such as sales and marketing—at the expense of softer skills such as empathy and communication. By nurturing an empathetic approach to communicating, leaders can better understand the root cause behind the poor performance, help struggling employees improve and excel, and encourage employees to develop strong relationships with each other.
Why is Empathic Communication Important?
To be a great leader, you need to care. You can't just show up at meetings and expect your employees to follow blindly. To align everyone toward the common goal, you must communicate with them on an emotional level. Empathetic communication is a powerful leadership asset, offering the following benefits:
- Fosters strong relationships and understanding
- Reflects your compassionate side and humanizes you as a leader
- Makes teamwork more fluid and sustainable
- Allows people to communicate better by maintaining civil discourse
Empathic communication is not just about having a verbal discussion but also about nonverbal expressions. For example, reading another person's body language and tone of voice helps you understand how they're feeling and where they originate. This awareness and an open mind make you an empathic communicator over time.
The 3 Types of Empathy
Empathy is your unique way of supporting and reciprocating others' emotions. Psychologists Paul Ekman and Daniel Goleman further dissect the concept of empathy in three categories:
- Cognitive Empathy helps us understand how others are feeling, which makes us more conscious of the words we use.
- Emotional Empathy allows us to have shared experiences and build emotional connections by sharing other people's feelings.
- Compassionate Empathy goes beyond understanding. It triggers actions to help others.
How to Be an Empathic Communicator?
Empathy, like all other personality traits, can be learned. The key to empathy is being willing to see past your own views, opinions, and circumstances. Once you're eager to listen to other people's perspectives, then you'll be considered an empathetic communicator.To be an empathic communicator, remember these tips:
- Be mindful of other people's emotions while they are talking
- Leave prejudice and opinions aside unless you're specifically asked to express them
- Ask neutral and thought-provoking questions to steer the conversation further and reach a common ground
- Talk less and listen more attentively
- Let the other person finish speaking without interjecting
- Expressing your understanding of the other person's perspective
- Validate other people's subjective experiences
- Explore your cognitive biases and prejudices and take remedial steps to correct them if they hinder your viewpoint
- Look beyond the words during a conversation and notice nonverbal signs (body language, facial expressions) to understand the other person better
How to Communicate Empathetically During Crisis
When sympathizing in times of crisis, it's essential to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy involves understanding from your perspective. Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person's shoes and becoming more aware of the root cause of why a person feels the way they do. As a result, we can better understand and provide healthier options by understanding why they may have these feelings.Here's how the three types of empathy are expressed in a crisis:
- Cognitive empathy - you'll imagine their hurt and how their life will change due to the loss.
- Emotional empathy - you'll find a shared cord, maybe from when you lost someone close, and connect better with your friend.
- Compassionate empathy - you'll take action to support your friend through their grief.
Empathic communication can help you respond effectively to a crisis. While talking with someone upset, keep these tips in mind:
- Acknowledge their fears and concerns
- Respond through the best channel of communication available to you
- Consider their subjective experience regardless of your views
- Practice reflective listening by verbalizing their feelings back to them
- Use emotive and kind language to calm them instead of triggering any adverse reaction
Empathy in Civil Discourse
Actively seeking opportunities to practice empathy in the workplace and in personal relationships will help you consistently strengthen your empathetic communication skills. The most profound impact of empathy I've seen is in the civil discourse that results from it.I rely on civil discourse as my go-to tool for building understanding and accelerating communication among team and family members. When everyone listens to each other respectfully despite their disagreements, it reflects their empathic skills. Empathy is the emotional support of civil discourse that helps us resonate with others and carve the path to success.The empathy we show to one another unlocks the potential of our teams, clients, and customers. All we need is to be more kind, understanding, and respectful to develop the skills for empathic communication.