In Change Management, People Skills, Project Management

empathy in leadershipWhen your working week is already full on, with pressure to deliver tasks, support services and hit targets, you may feel it doesn’t leave a lot of time for supporting people and considering their emotions.

All the more so if your business is embarking on big transformational change. This is the case for managers at a company that I have been working with recently. People are anxious about the looming upheaval; the managers know they need to support their staff. But everyone is super busy!

People feel caught up in a frantic whirlwind of continual change. This is when managers need more than ever to make time to talk to their people, and then listen carefully to understand their perspective and show them that they are valued.

Empathy and change management

It comes down to empathy. Empathy is fundamental in change management, to support people going through the turbulence and uncertainty of change. There is also a link between empathy and influence – empathy is a huge asset in being able to influence others, because to do so, you need to see things from their perspective.

Bringing about change requires influencing people: helping move them from where they are, to the desired change.

On our programmes I talk about ‘meeting people at their bus stop’ as the starting point for their change journey. It is no good saying, “Come on people, come over here and make this change” if they are in a very different place to where you are starting from. You have to go over to where they are, to connect with them in their place, before inviting them along on the journey.

Empathy is not just crucial to change management. It is also invaluable in project management, where you will need to influence stakeholders to secure their buy-in and commitment.

I have written recently on the role of trust in change management. Empathy and trust work together, in that empathy helps build trust, and trust helps enhance empathy.

5 ways to develop empathy

How do we go about developing empathy and assertiveness? You may find these five techniques useful.

1. Listen, listen, listen, with your ears, eyes, heart and brain. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next, and avoid the temptation to find an instant solution for them.

2. Assume positive intent. Let your team come to work and give their best, encouraging those who rarely speak up to have their say. Hearing their ideas can benefit everyone.

3. Cultivate genuine interest in the lives of your team members, join them for dinner, ask questions about their hopes and challenges. Know about their family and build relationships.

4. Keep your body language open, don’t interrupt. You can learn a lot if you look on disagreement as a chance to understand their perspective and what they’re experiencing.

5. Make your appreciation personal. Different people feel valued in different ways, whether it’s quality time with your people, carefully chosen words of praise, or an Honour Roll. This way, you’re not falling into the trap of a one-size-fits-all approach to empathy.

Empathy and strong leadership

Because empathy is a right-brain activity, it can be dismissed as a soft skill, a touchy-feely distraction from the main business in hand. Even a weakness that undermines strong leadership. I disagree. Empathy makes them stronger, informs better decision making, improves morale and helps motivate people for change.

That’s why we should find time for it.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have time for empathy?

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