Leaders today need to build trust and rapport with their staff in order to keep them motivated and engaged. There’s one crucial ingredient that this requires – empathy. Building good relationships requires two-way communication where staff can give feedback, express their concerns and frustrations and feel ‘safe’ doing so.
Too often than not, when communicating with staff, leaders are focussed on getting their point across, communicating what needs to be done, what should have been done or allocating tasks. Instead, leaders need to practice a bit more mindfulness starting with displaying more empathy by listening to what other people have to say about an issue. By increasing your empathy, you are increasing your desire to understand and care about others’ perspectives and see things from their point of view.
Empathetic leaders care about the well-being of their team. And when you can truly do this, you will have connected, engaged, fulfilled and motivated staff.
So what can we actually doto be more empathetic and sensitive to others?
- Encourage two-way communication. Go beyond having an open-door policy and actively invite feedback and communication from your staff. Have ad-hoc conversations with them in the kitchen, invite them for a coffee or lunch and let them know you are interested in their point of view on a specific issue, have meetings with the specific intention of hearing their feedback about issues. And when they do talk to you, acknowledge what they are saying and feeling without your ego getting in the way or without formulating your response. It’s OK to simply listen with the sole intention of understanding what they are communicating, without having any rebuttal or response other than, “I understand. Thank you for being so open. I appreciate your feedback and I take it all on board”.
- Practice active listening, reading verbal and non-verbal cues. Active listening requires you to literally be ‘active’ with verbal and non-verbal cues when you are listening to staff giving feedback. It goes beyond just nodding your head and waiting for a gap in the conversation to jump in with your point of view. Being able to read non-verbal cues is just as important as understanding the verbal dialogue. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language cues all help you to better understand how the ‘talker’ is feeling and what they are trying to express. By recognising verbal and non-verbal cues, you are more sensitive to what they are feeling and can acknowledge these feelings and probe a little deeper to really understand them more; “I sense you are a little anxious about this topic, can you tell me more”. A leader who is sensitive to the feelings of others is more effective in having staff who are able to express themselves and feel heard, which is a critical component to feeling valued and connected.
- When listening to others, show how you are actively processing what you are hearing. Part of active listening is the ability to process the information you are hearing by showing you understand the meaning of what is being said, and keeping track of the points raised. Use your own verbal and non-verbal cues to show you are engaged in the conversation and understand what is being communicated. Managers who are good at processing will acknowledge how the talker is feeling, will summarise the points of agreement and disagreement, and articulate themes and key messages from the conversation. It’s important when your staff are giving you feedback that you are able to acknowledge their feelings with verbal and non-verbal cues, including nodding, facial expressions, eye contact as well as para-phrasing or probing questions or encouraging phrases like “yes, great point”. These all show you ‘get it’, and are effectively processing the information. You might say “OK, so what I am hearing is …..”, or “here are a couple of key points that I heard from this meeting… does that sound right?” Effective leaders can go even further here to show just how much they value the feelings and feedback of their staff, by organising another time to meet and outline the next steps for that catch up. You want the person to leave the conversation feeling validated, heard, thoroughly understood and triumphant that they were able to fully express themselves without being hurried, misunderstood or overlooked.
- Follow up on conversations and communications you have had with staff. Encouraging open communication and practicing active listening is useless without this crucial step. Follow up. To truly build trust and respect amongst your staff, you need to prove that you have listened to them and put steps in place to show you take their feedback and their feelings seriously. Make sure you prioritise follow-up meetings and actually do the things you agree to in your conversations. Where possible and appropriate, make changes based on feedback, whether it’s to processes of your management style, to prove you value your staff and their feelings. Keep gauging their perspectives and feedback, this is a continual process and your working relationships will continue to strengthen.
To be an outstanding leader today, you really need to practice mindfulness and prioritise empathy. Slow down and actively step into the shoes of others, to understand their perspectives and focus less on ‘leading’ and more on better listening. Next time someone is talking to you, try to fully immerse yourself in what it is they are saying. Make understanding their message your sole purpose and let go of the impulse to think of your response as they are talking. Then follow up on it and encourage more open communication. The more we listen, the more we understand and the better our leadership will become.
I would love to help you and your leadership team become more empathetic and effective with one of my tailored workshops? I’ll share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today.