Today’s labor market is rapidly transforming, as the shift to remote work has expanded employment opportunities and employee expectations. Now employees demand and can get fairer and more empathetic treatment. “Employees want to feel seen,” says Heidi Brooks, organizational behavior lecturer at Yale School of Management.
In return, connecting empathetically with employees can also directly benefit organizational leaders. For example, when employees feel heard and listened to, they are more likely to communicate, help ease change management, and drive innovation.
In other words, embracing empathy creates wins for both company and employee. Here’s how CIOs can up their empathy game.
Brooks defines two kinds of empathy: cognitive and emotional. Leadership requires cognitive empathy. According to Brooks, cognitive empathy involves “imaging yourself in their shoes and asking questions” to better understand someone else’s experiences. Then, critically, “you have to express that understanding.” Note that you don’t have to agree, just show understanding.
Empathy can be challenging to master. As Rasheed Behrooznia, vice president of campus ID solutions at Transact Campus, says, “Leading with empathy was something I had to learn.” Initially, he believed that being a leader simply meant telling his team what to do. Now he understands that a good team leader must listen and take time to understand. That means staying curious.
By understanding what employees need, how they learn, and what’s in it for them, you can more easily get buy-in for your agenda.
Let others do the talking
If someone on your staff seems unwilling to talk to you, they likely have a reason based on your history with them. In these situations, it’s essential to learn how to speak last.
As Volodymyr Semenyshyn, president of EMEA at SoftServe, sees it, when leaders speak first, their words become directives, not invitations to collaborate. Speaking first “kills autonomy and creativity and shows you are not an empathetic leader,” he says.
Follow the script
Becoming an empathetic leader can start with a few simple steps.
First, ask such questions as, “What do you want to accomplish with the work you’re doing?” and, “How can I help?”
Next, be ready to ask follow-up questions to go deeper.
Showing interest and acknowledging the person in this way gives you “three to seven minutes of curiosity,” according to Wood, which will let the person you’re talking to feel seen and lead to a stronger bond between you.
In effect, asking questions and following up represents a script that can help you grow relationships in any team.
In the hybrid workplace, the context obvious in in-person communication can easily get lost. As May Habib, co-founder and CEO of Writer.com, points out, “When people communicate asynchronously, the level of perceived toxicity and bullying goes up.”
It’s therefore critical to choose your words carefully when communicating, for example, by email.
Get some help
Finally, workplace experts like Wood recommend coaching for leaders to help them cultivate empathy. The payoff will be a more loyal and productive staff — a vital asset in the evolving hybrid workplace, where employees put a premium on job opportunities that let them feel heard and seen.