Emotional Intelligence: Empathy

If you want to build trust … you need to demonstrate empathy, the cornerstone of trust. If you are in the process of exhibiting empathy … you are, by definition, genuinely displaying “other-centered behavior.” When you empathize, you are actively engaged. You are centered. Perhaps even more accurately, you are dialed in with the person in front of you.

So, what does all that look like? It looks like … listening! Intently! And as you listen, you are undoubtedly hearing the words being spoken, but you fully recognize those words are but the tip of the iceberg! You hear what is being said as the first step in the process of truly understanding what is being communicated.

The product of doing all that is the ability recognize, understand and appreciate the way others feel. It is important to understand that doesn’t mean you have to feel the same way. It simply means you have demonstrated, beyond reasonable doubt, to the person you are spending time with that it is OK for them to feel how they feel and that you “get” where they are coming from. Think of it as a genuine investment of sorts.

OK, well so what? What is the return on this investment? Well, as a leader (manager, parent, etc.) if the people you are trying to influence trust you … they tell you the truth. That doesn’t necessarily make your job any easier, but it most certainly will save you time and “keep it real!” As a leader, for instance, when you sense something is wrong and you ask your direct report (son/daughter, etc.) about it (“Everything OK?”), instead of getting an answer like this:

“What? Yeah, of course. Sorry … just a little distracted.”

You get answers like this:

“Honestly … I am so sick and tired of doing ‘this’ I can barely stand it.”

Or perhaps:

“Honestly … I am scared to death. I have never done what this team is relying on me to do, and I can’t help but think I am going to let them down.”

When the people you are attempting to influence are “straight” with you as a leader, your probability of success and effectiveness skyrockets (i.e. you don’t treat a motivation challenge as a skill deficiency or a confidence challenge as a lack of commitment). If you want to be a better leader, build trust. And if you want to build trust, demonstrate empathy! Because, corny though it may be, the well-chronicled and much-repeated soundbite on all of this still rings true: People don’t care how much you know … until they know how much you care!