What is it that every good boss has and the ineffective one lacks? Here’s a hint: it’s not a degree or something you can buy. The answer is EMPATHY.
This, along with the ability to do the job well, is crucial to working effectively with employees in the best interest of the company.
What is empathy?
Empathy is often confused with the term “sympathy” and while they are related, they are actually quite different words. Budding entrepreneur Joey Pomerenke describes empathy as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences, emotions, and feelings.” On the other hand, sympathy is feeling pity or sorrow for someone. It is more distant while empathy goes deep down to share the other person’s feelings and experiences.
Not many of us think of it as an essential business skill, but according to Harvard Business Review, empathy is rapidly making it to the top of the list of “soft skills” that business owners need.
The importance in the workplace
There are a number of reasons employees leave the workplace. They move out of the country, decide to stay at home with their children or even go back to school. However, a “bad boss” is the number one reason for quitting a job.
There is no need to be buddies with your employees. However, a boss and an employee work closely during office hours and if they are not cordial with each other, the workplace can become intolerable. Employees want to be heard and appreciated. Having an empathic boss will not only make them more productive at the workplace but will eliminate the requirement factor from their work as well.
According to Pomerenke, “Many businesses use punishment and negative consequences so employees behave in a particular way, but showing appreciation through benefits, coaching and development, incentives and genuine rewards sends the message that the business simply cares about the people connected to it.”
So how can you develop empathy if you are not naturally empathetic to begin with?
- Put yourself in their shoes
For just one day or even a few hours, take time to understand the employee’s day. Do the tasks they are responsible for, whether it’s taking orders or assembling reports – whatever you can do to gain firsthand experience. This will not only allow you to understand their perspectives but also send a positive message to the staff that the boss is not above doing anyone’s job and that each job is valuable
- Talk to them
Arrange regular meetings with your employees, either privately or within group discussions. Allow them to give their ideas or suggestions. But don’t use this time to rebuke anyone. Instead, act on the ideas you like or explain why you are not implementing others. You can also use this time to open up about your own managerial struggles. Let your team know you are on their side. In short, make it a positive experience for everyone.
- Take interest in their personal lives
Ask about their weekend or their families. Are they taking too much work home? Being genuinely interested in them will make them feel appreciated, and employees who feel appreciated develop the internal motivation to work hard and give their best.
- Break the ice
Ask anyone how they are doing and they are likely to say they are fine. However, that is not always the end of a conversation. Do they look fine? Are they fidgeting while they are replying? Is their head drooping? Sometimes employees are facing trouble and they are hesitant to share them with you. Break the ice and show genuine concern about their well-being. Business owners know that if an employee is dealing with problems at home, it is bound to affect their performance at work. Show that you care and ask if you can help.
- Put yourself in their shoes
Above all, be honest and sincere with your employees. Stay updated about their personal lives, and their struggles and help alleviate issues that might affect the workplace. You may not be able to solve their problems, but being understanding will show your employees that you care.