Empathy − The Coaching Mistake Leaders Make
Empathy is often misunderstood and thought of as a positive skill to have – particularly when coaching others.
Empathy is an Essential Leadership Skill − And There’s Nothing Soft About It
If You Can’t Empathize with Your Employees, You’d Better Learn To
Master This 1 Quality to Make Your Team Happier and More Productive
Sure, showing your team empathy instead of apathy has its benefits. But in many ways, they’re missing the mark.
As leaders expand their skill sets, mastering coaching skills in order to better serve their teams is an obvious step. They create an open door policy and ensure that team members know that they can come to them with their problems, whether workplace related or not. Many leaders are taught that empathizing with their team will make them more likeable and effective.
That logic is seriously flawed.
Empathy is an emotional experience, not a cognitive one. When you empathize with someone, you are putting yourself in their shoes emotionally and feeling their feelings. When they feel pain, you feel pain. When they feel depressed, you feel depressed.
At face value, empathizing sounds like a kind and helpful thing to do because, theoretically, it creates connection. But let’s explore this a little bit further.
If a colleague comes to you and says that they’re frustrated with their team’s lack of productivity and are angry with a particular team member for making an offensive remark and you empathize with your colleague (meaning you feel their feelings), then you too will become frustrated and angry with the team’s productivity or with the particular team member. So now what? Can you really help them from such a negative point of view?
The answer is No.
If someone is struggling and we join them in that pain and we feel their feelings, we trap ourselves in their emotions, rendering us unable to help them. Empathy inhibits us from envisioning a different outcome and finding a solution.
Thankfully, we have a much more practical tactic than empathy when it comes to coaching others.
Instead of empathizing, we show others compassion.
To illustrate the difference between showing empathy and showing compassion, imagine you had to help someone who was drowning in a swimming pool.
If you experienced empathy, you’d feel what it is like to drown – desperate, breathless, etc. This would prevent you from being able to help them.
But as compassionate human beings, when we notice someone drowning, we want to help.
Keeping our feet firmly planted on the side of the pool (and not jumping in with them), we can reach in and pull them out, or take another helpful action that will save them.
When we remove ourselves emotionally from someone’s pain before trying to help them, we can be much more effective at alleviating their suffering.
When we show them compassion and understanding, they are able to open up, and we are prepared to find the path that will help them get to a better place.
This is how we coach our clients, and it’s also a technique that we help our clients master. Isn’t it time you became a more effective leader?