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7 Barriers to Empathy That Block Effective Leadership

Empathy is a word that has gained currency in the workplace lately. It is the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, be aware of their feelings and understand their needs. It goes beyond simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity. Empathy can be tricky for people to figure out. The difference is subtle but significant, and it has serious implications in the way people feel about their interactions with you and how they assess effective leadership.

In the workplace, an empathetic manager can show deep respect for co-workers and show they care and make others feel safe, as opposed to just going by rules and regulations. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty. Empathy is a powerful tool in the leadership repertoire of a well-liked and respected executive.

Empathy plays a major role in the workplace that will deal with failures, poor performance and manage employees who genuinely show interest to contribute, improve, and grow. As leaders, your role is simple – deal empathetically with the team and watch them build a strong and prosperous organisation. This understanding will give a better way to manage the challenges ahead.

To further drive home the point about the importance of empathy and how it is linked to effective leadership, here are some key considerations:

* Having an empathetic manager allows the employee to feel safe to make mistakes because they don’t fear outright blame.
* Empathy will allow a manager to understand the root cause of poor performance more fairly.
* An empathetic approach gives a chance for struggling employees to improve and shine – thereby easing the pressures of hiring.

However, most leaders find this hard. It is therefore important to take note of the barriers to empathetic behaviour:

1. Fear:

Everyone hates to fail, but for some people, failing presents such a significant psychological threat their motivation to avoid failure surpasses their motivation to succeed. As a leader, often your fear may be to show vulnerability and to accept that you may have an error of judgment sometimes. However, portraying humility and accepting that you are infallible gives employees a sense of belonging and freeness. They will share their true problems and can show inclination to improve.

Remedy: a) Be transparent and share information with others. b) Use calming techniques like deep breathing and look for long term solutions to problems. c) Step back and reflect on performance.

2. Your problems are not my problems:

Sometimes, managers and leaders use a result-oriented approach, going after the goal at any cost. However, in challenging times the variability is much more. Employees may have several other constraints that are hampering their output. Therefore, a don’t-bring-personal-problems-to-work attitude won’t work. Employers will have to be empathetic, and understand how to support a faltering employee.

Remedy: It is crucial to try to eliminate the not my problem attitude by developing a coaching mindset and let the team members be autonomous and more responsible.

3. Poor choice of words:

Your employee has made a simple error in one of the monthly reports. Mistakes happen, but you expect perfection. You compare him or her with another colleague whom you see as being very competent. What is the result? Aside from feeling hurt by this response, the employee feels inadequate and resentful towards their ‘more efficient’ colleague. This creates division in the team and you no longer work as well together. During tough times, everybody will likely be on the edge. The stress is higher, and nerves will be frayed. Poor choices of words, especially coming from company leaders, can affect employee morale, productivity and health.

Remedy: a) Stop using buzz words and jargons. b) Use assertive language rather than aggressive language. c) Use inclusive words rather than instructions.

4. Unhealthy internal competition:

The rat race often makes us feel like we aren’t good enough. Competition fuels energy, action, persistence, but it also causes employees to be selfish, angry and conflicted. It can cause rifts in teams, and sometimes intense disappointment and anger in an employee. A ‘me versus him’ or ‘me versus my group’ attitude causes big ego clashes causing a lot of negativity.

Remedy: a) Promote working towards a common goal b) Respect individuality while accomplishing specific tasks, even as you promote teamwork c) Ensure employees are not discouraging each other.

5. Poor listening:

One of the most important skills for effective leadership is to be good listeners. Sometimes it can be a matter of perception – Where a manager believes they are good listeners but the employees disagree. Sometimes they don’t understand the value of good listening or listen selectivity. Listening demonstrates respect, concern, an openness to new ideas, empathy, compassion, curiosity, trust, loyalty, and receptivity to feedback – all considered to be qualities of an effective leader.

Remedy: a) To patiently hear employees’ needs. b) Take feedback seriously

6. Applying one’s judgement:

Judgemental leaders make decisions based on negative assumptions. Suppose an employee misses a deadline Judgemental leaders instantly feel they understand why he missed the deadline – He doesn’t respect others. He’s lazy. He only cares for himself. He can’t manage time. All these reasons are judgemental and can be avoided if you just approach the employee and ask for a good reason. Interactions based on assumptions and not realities cause distortions and gaps between the leadership and employees. This is not good in the long run for the organisation.

Remedy: a) Stay curious b) Lean back, refrain from talking and listen more.

7. Not having a solution to their problem:

Always complaining about mistakes, and pointing fingers without giving a solution will only demoralise employees. Problems keep on cropping up. Taking short-cuts will temporarily alleviate the situation so you can move onto the next problem. In the process, the core problem isn’t solved and you can get trapped in an endless cycle of poor solutions leading to more poor solutions.

Remedy: Have a democratic management style and invite employees to get involved in making decisions.

Why is being empathetic important in the workplace? Empathy allows you to know if the people you’re trying to reach are reached. It allows you to predict the consequence your decisions and actions will have on core audiences and strategise accordingly. Without empathy, you can’t build a team or nurture a new generation of leaders. You will not inspire followers or elicit loyalty. For instance, look at empathy in a negotiation and sales scenario: it allows you to know your target’s desires and what risks they are or aren’t willing to take. Beyond the focus on goals and profit being empathetic will help your teams build a more cohesive group and better collaboration.

In order for a team to work well together, a relationship must be built and deepened. When this happens through empathy, trust is built in the team. When trust is built, good things begin to happen. Whatever your natural inclination and capacity for empathy, it can change with your own physical and mental well-being, as well as self-awareness. Putting the needs of the employee first will be the most beneficial for the organisation in the long run.

At Yellow Spark we conduct impactful leadership training to build leaders at all levels. To know more write to us at contact@yellowspark.in

Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.

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7 Barriers to Empathy That Block Effective Leadership
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Published on:  December 10, 2020