Empathy – a vital management skill

Having empathy is a vital management skill. Without it we fail to communicate effectively to our team.business meeting

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy allows us to take into account how the other person is going to feel about what we are saying and to imagine how they will react.

According to psychologist Mark Davis  there are three types of empathy: emotional, cognitive and empathic concern.

When most people think about being more empathic, they think about emotional empathy: the ability to tune in to the other person’s emotions and have an instantaneous connection with them.

Emotional empathy requires you to be fully tuned to your own body’s emotional signals, so that you can automatically mirror the other person’s feelings. This type of empathy is not that helpful in the business world, particularly if you are managing difficult people and need to deliver a challenging message to your difficult person.

Emotional empathy can set off the classic threat response which places you in avoidance mode. It requires a lot of mental effort to override avoidance mode behaviour, which can lead to muddled communications.

What is more helpful is to develop the skills of cognitive empathy. With this type of empathy you engage your curiosity, rather than your emotions, to understand the other person’s reality. By asking questions and listening you can find out about the other person’s perspective and this helps you to communicate better with them. You are able to use expressions and words similar to the ones they use, so building rapport and reducing misunderstandings.

Once the difficult part of your conversation has been tackled and the actions agreed then you can usefully use the third type of empathy known as “empathic concern”. This taps into your feelings of compassion, and helps you to express your care for the other person in the form of how you will support them in making the changes you want.