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Develop Your Empathy - 10 TIPS

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

10 practical tips you might consider to help you develop your empathy

Empathy is one of the key leadership traits. Often confused with sympathy, but of course it is very different, it is the starting point to building rapport with your people and developing strong relationships to influence positive outcomes.

Sympathy is 'feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune', whereas empathy is 'the ability to understand and share the feelings of others' . . .

or in simple terms . . . putting yourself in someone else's shoes!

Empathy: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Showing empathy can come more naturally to some than others, however we can all develop our levels of warmth and empathy with others. Being self-aware and reflecting on perhaps why we are not as comfortable with empathy as we could is a good starting point to develop this essential leadership trait.

The following tips can help you develop your empathy and improve your leadership skills.

1. Listen

Truly listen to people. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart. Pay attention to others' body language, to their tone of voice, to the hidden emotions behind what they are saying to you, and to the context. If you actually listen properly to people they will tell you what they are really trying to say, think and feel.

2. Don't interrupt people

Don't dismiss their concerns offhand. Don't rush to give advice. Don't change the subject. Allow people their moment. Try not to be thinking about what your response is going to be before you have even heard what they are saying.

3. Tune in to non-verbal communication

This is the way that people often communicate what they think or feel, even when their verbal communication says something quite different. We cannot not communicate!

4. Practice the "93 percent rule"

We know from a famous study by Professor Emeritus, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, when communicating about feelings and attitudes, words (i.e. the things we say) account for only 7 percent of the total message that people receive. The other 93 percent of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language. It's important, then, to spend some time to understand how we come across when we communicate with others about our feelings and attitudes.

The other 93 percent of the message that we communicate when we speak is contained in our tone of voice and body language.

5. Use people's names

As well as using people’s names, also remember the names of their husband or wife and children so that you can refer to them by name. This will also show you have listened to them in the past as you will have remembered this important information about them and their families. Simply calling someone by their name can be really effective - we all like to hear our name!

6. Be fully present when you are with people

Don't check your email, look at your watch or mobile or take phone calls when someone is talking to you, whether a direct report or anyone else for that matter. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if someone did that to you? If you really cannot talk at that moment for any reason, and it is not urgent, tell them you will get back to them. It is better to talk and listen to them properly, rather than pretend, as they will see and feel that you are not important.

7. Smile at people

Might seem obvious but the simplest thing of a smile, as long as it is genuine, can make a big difference when showing empathy and building rapport. It seems pretty obvious but if you are kind to people they will tend to be kind back.

8. Encourage people

Particularly the quiet ones, when they speak up in meetings. A simple thing like an attentive nod can boost people's confidence. Be mindful though that some people are very shy and their silence doesn't always mean they are not interested or don't care. There are different ways to encourage people to engage.

9. Give genuine recognition and praise

Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the good things. When you give praise, make it specific to what they have done well. Be genuine with your words and make them memorable: "You are an asset to this team because..."; "This was pure genius"; "We would have missed this if you hadn't picked it up."

10. Take a personal interest in people

Show people that you care, and genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, and their aspirations.

Whatever tips or methods you use to show empathy - remember BE GENUINE, as human nature gives us the natural sense of being able to spot insincerity very easily and being fake will almost certainly result in breaking any rapport you are trying to build.

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Article by Trevor Norman

Trevor is a leadership coach and cognitive behavioural therapist and specialises in organisational behavioural analytics and team dynamics

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