Why Empathetic Leadership Enhances Engagement

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The ability to empathize with your employees has never been more important. This requires evaluating how your staff is feeling on an ongoing basis – and this is critical in an environment where you want to foster diversity, equality, and inclusion. 

How well do you read and respond to the emotional needs of your team? Are you prioritizing their needs above business results? As a leader, it’s important to check in with yourself regarding your level of empathy on a regular basis.

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their own perspective. Although it’s a general term, it can be expressed in a few different ways. In fact, psychologists have distinguished three distinct types of empathy: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.

  1. Cognitive Empathy (Perspective-Taking) 

This type of empathy is focused on thought, understanding and intellect. Useful in work situations of negotiations, motivating other people, understanding diverse viewpoints, and ideal for virtual meetings. This type of empathy doesn’t tap into the realm of emotions as deeply as other types of empathy.

Cognitive empathy in the workplace allows you to empathize with the diverse perspectives of those around you. As a leader, this is important in order to make your team feel valued and respected. If someone presents an idea or diverse perspective that you don’t understand, this is when you can practice cognitive empathy. Open your mind to new ways of thinking.

  1. Emotional Empathy (Deep-Feeling) 

Underscored by a deep shared emotional experience with the other person, emotional empathy is useful in work situations, in the right doses, as it promotes a close bond with coworkers and peers. This form of empathy is particularly helpful during stressful and difficult times.

If you see someone experiencing shame or guilt after a poor performance review, you empathize with those emotions. Emotional empathy happens when you feel what the other person is feeling. 

  1.  Compassionate Empathy (Action-Oriented)

Focused on combining intellect, emotions and action, compassionate empathy is incredibly useful in a work environment. Not only do we understand someone’s situation, we feel it with them and are thereby motivated to help, solve and support. This allows the other person to feel truly seen and heard.

For example, if an employee isn’t meeting their sales quota, a compassionate empathy approach would be to listen to their feelings and frustration, analyze with them what’s working and what’s not, and co-create a plan with them to get them back on track.  As a manager, this shows you have confidence in their abilities and are being understanding as they navigate through a challenging time.

Compassion builds trust and shows you have your team’s best interests at heart. Empathetic leaders are constantly looking for new ways to enhance their skills. They ask for feedback and welcome diverse perspectives.

By keeping the lines of communication open, your employees will feel respected and as a result, they will be fully present in their work. People want to feel that their opinions matter and their efforts are contributing to the greater good of the company.