Empathy - being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes and see things from their perspective, not yours - is one of the two "roots" of Kindness. Being empathetic isn't easy, but luckily it's a skill that can be improved through practice! And it is a skill that everyone - Kind Leaders especially - need to deliberately and continually practice!
I was reading an article on the weekend that purported to tell readers the single-most underutilized skill that highly success people possess. The answer? Good listening to drive empathy. The article quotes Muriel Wilkins, co-founder of a leadership consulting firm: “It’s really not that hard...like, stop talking and listen and ask questions that are about the other person ... Listening is the biggest and the most underused skill that helps drive empathy, and a lot of other things as well.”
I'm in 100% agreement that good listening is absolutely essential to empathy. That's because in order to be able to "put yourself in someone else's shoes", you have to be able to "see and hear" things from their perspective.
However, as skills, both listening, and being empathetic aren't easy, they're actually unbelievably difficult, especially for leaders. As I explore in The Kind Leader: A Practical Guide To Eliminating Fear, Creating Trust and Leading with Kindness, here's some of the reasons why:
Most people expect leaders to be out in front, giving direction! That they should be communicating their vision, and leading people in the direction that they want others to go! People expect followers to focus on the leader's perspective, not the other way around!
As a skill, listening isn't something that most people are trained to do. Although there are countless classes and courses on how to be a better public speaker (your organization might have it's own or send people to classes from organizations like Toastmasters), very few have dedicated classes on how to become a more skilled listener. Or how to be more empathetic!
People think about "listening" as something that they do with their ears! Listening, however, is something that needs to be done with eyes, ears, mind and heart.
Good news is that being empathetic and listening are both difficult, it is possible for everyone (including leaders), to become more empathetic! The way to do it? Through deliberately practicing and improving your listening skills in four areas.
Act Kindly Behavior Two, (which you can learn more about in Chapter 6 of The Kind Leader), is Listen: With Open Eyes, Open Ears, Open Mind and an Open Heart. Practicing listening in all four of these areas is the key to practicing empathy.
Because Empathy is one of the roots of kindness, and such an important skill for leaders to have, we'll be focusing on helping you practice your Listening for Empathy skills as this week:
Tuesday: Listen with Open Eyes: People get more information from their eyes, then they do from their ears, and more communication is conveyed from body language than it is from words alone. We'll be sharing ideas for you to use to see and understand another's perspective by "going to see"!
Wednesday: Listen with Open Ears: We'll be sharing best practices and tips for improving empathy by listening to words, tone of voice and reading between the lines.
Thursday: Listen with an Open Mind: How do you stop judging and assuming your way is the "right way" and that others have a valid perspective, even if it's totally opposite to yours? We'll share some suggestions that you can you immediately!
Friday: Listen with an Open Heart: The most difficult of the four ways to listen, and the most important to developing empathy, we'll share how to find similarities and connection, even when there are obvious differences.
You can find these posts on LinkedIn on our New School for Kind Leaders Page, and in The Kind Leader Practice Community all this week. You'll also be able to find them on the Homepage of this website! Just scroll down to our social media feed section!
Being empathic isn't easy. And listening isn't easy. But being a Kind Leader isn't about doing what's easiest. It's about deliberately practicing developing the skills that you need to create a kinder, better organization, and a kinder, better world for all.
Can't wait to hear about how your practice goes! If you have questions or need help to practice Empathy, Listening or any of the other Key Kind Leader Practices and Behaviors, please reach out! We're always here to help!