10 Tips for having difficult conversations with employees
At work and in life, we all have to face difficult conversations. For managers, having tough…
As a manager, having a keen sense of empathy will help you to see the world from your employees’ eyes. This in turn will give you a clearer vision of what they need from you to be successful. In today’s complex workforce, where multi-generations work together to tackle tough problems (like making it through a pandemic!), the ability to foster empathy is a coveted power skill for managers looking to help their teams thrive.
If you’re a manager, new or seasoned, taking the time to deliberately develop your empathy in the workplace will help you connect with your team and build stronger relationships at work. Empathy is the igniter for trust and connection, which are the two “must-haves” needed for every team to perform at their best.
When we perceive that someone in our environment is going through some kind of emotional distress, typically as humans we respond with empathy, sympathy, or compassion. These experiences all make up what we call emotional intelligence! To better understand how to respond with empathy, we must first understand the nuanced differences!
While these are all important skills to master, empathy has been identified as one of today’s top power skills for managers around the world. For this article, we spoke to real managers to give us insights on how they use empathy to manage their team successfully.
As a manager, developing these skills should be top of mind if you want to create a team built on trust, connection, and open communication. Here are some tips to help you flex that empathy muscle!
While this may seem obvious, putting yourself in your team’s shoes will help you remember what their day-to-day struggles look and feel like. One of the quickest ways to build empathy for your team and understand what they need is to go through what they are going through.
We spoke with Mario the manager who explained to us that his team was working slower than anticipated and not on schedule to submit a project. Before getting upset with them, he knew he needed to understand where they were coming from.
🎙 “I would show up on-site as early as they did so that I could spend the day working with them. This helped me better understand their roadblocks so that I could help them find a solution. I knew that I would not be able to move the project along any quicker without really understanding what my team was going through.” – Mario
How to build your empathy in the workplace:
💡 Tip: Before drawing conclusions about someone’s behavior or outcomes, ask yourself if you’ve done enough to empathize, and consider alternative explanations. This is all part of taking on their perspective!
Active listening is a structured way of listening where you give the person in front of you your undivided attention while mirroring and validating what they say.
Sam the manager explains that when he notices someone on his team acting out of the norm, he will often ask them questions to better understand what they are going through beyond work.
🎙 “Once they start talking, I will simply listen. This helps them feel comfortable opening up and I often respond by letting them know that I am here to support them. I encourage them to take the time and space they need to express themselves and don’t judge or question their feelings.” – Sam
To practice empathetic listening with your employees:
This is especially important now as employees are living in unique situations and sentiments in their personal lives. It’s important for managers to be able to think beyond performance and recognize people’s struggles beyond the screen.
Another great way to really listen to your employees is by seeking out feedback to really understand their pains. You can do this easily using Officevibe. We give managers autonomically generated insights on all your people to help flag issues as they arise so you can flex your empathy muscle where it matters most.
Sometimes it can be hard to walk a mile in another person’s shoes when you’ve truly never had a similar experience. This is when asking yourself some tougher questions can help you shift your perspective and understand a situation from another angle.
Jason the manager says that asking yourself tough questions is the basis of understanding how other people feel and can help you let down your defenses. He says:
🎙 “Once you can understand how your team feels, they’ll open up to you easier as they trust that they can speak without repercussions. When I’m in defense mode, it’s hard to hear what they are saying, because I feel triggered. When I let my defense down and take their perspective, we get better work done together.” – Jason
Reflection questions to build empathy as a manager:
These questions can help you dig deeper as a manager and help shift your perspective and foster healthy dialogues between you and your team. It’s also important to ask your employees what they need from you. Remember to ask how you can help and be mindful not to assume that you know what they need! This is all-important when developing your overall emotional intelligence.
Empathy is not only good for the health of your employees, but also for the health of your company. There are many ways that fostering empathy as a manager can influence the culture of empathy on your team while also transforming your business. Let’s discuss a few!
Building products with empathy for the end-users in mind is needed for products to launch successfully. When empathy is built into your culture, it will transcend your business process. A Nielson analysis reports that ¾ products fail to launch successfully when empathy is not kept in mind!
💡 Tip: Remove barriers that get in the way of your employees doing their best work and focusing on user needs! This can include things like lengthy processes, outdated hardware, or unnecessary administrative work that blocks their creative flow.
In a recent study on empathy in the workplace, employees believe that their managers have the greatest impact on building a culture of empathy. Building your empathy will take your leadership skills to the next level!
Part of what builds psychological safety is both trust and feeling understood. When employees feel safe, they are more comfortable taking risks, making mistakes, and being vulnerable with their team. This in turn leads to more creative, innovative, and inclusive work.
💡 Tip: When you disagree with an employee, before stating your disagreement, seek to understand them first by asking them open-ended questions.
Developing empathy as a manager won’t be something you do overnight. Rather, by remaining consistent and always asking yourself what you can do to better help support and understand your employees, your efforts will permeate throughout the team to create a culture of empathy.
You can save the image below (drag to your desktop or right-click and save) with the main and most actionable points from this article, and/or send them to your email.
Would you be interested in receiving our newsletter directly in your inbox?