Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Empathy — the ability to read and understand others’ emotions, needs and thoughts — is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence and a critical leadership skill. Many people think that empathy is something you’re born with or not. But it is not that simple.

Developing empathy requires self-awareness, self-management, patience, endurance and lots of practice.

Here are a few simple things you can begin to do.

1. Observe, listen and ask questions. Pay attention to people’s body language rather than obsessing over what you are going to say next. This can be harder than it sounds, because you have to let go of the notion that you know what is best or have the right answer.

2. Avoid distractions and try to be more fully present when you are with people. There is always a deadline looming, a crisis to deal with or an annoyance to put to rest. All of this takes us out of the moment and puts us into a crisis mentality — just the opposite of what we need in order to build good relationships. It is tough to get out of this state, but one way is through mindfulness practices like deep breathing and meditation.

3. Stop multitasking. Multitasking is really doing more than one thing with less than your whole brain. If you are writing an e-mail to one person while talking to another, neither one is getting the best of you. And at least one of them knows it.

(Adapted from "If You Can’t Empathize with Your Employees, You’d Better Learn To" at HBR.org.)

© Harvard Business Review

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