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  • Writer's pictureRachal Jones

Balancing your empathy

Appropriate empathy is integral to being an effective leader. 

We tend to have an inherent level of empathy shaped by our experiences and values however as leaders it is important to deploy the appropriate level of empathy for the moment. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, yet appropriate empathy is knowing how to use that understanding to create a safe and productive environment within your workspace.

In my experience I have seen over-empathy and under-empathy undermine a person's leadership. 

Over-empathy comes from not only understanding another's feelings but over-stepping and taking on the pain or concern as their own.  In a desire to help another, a leader can be too eager to jump in solve or empathise and take on roles that are unhelpful.  Alternatively, under-empathy can be interpreted as cold and uncaring.

A great technique to check your empathy appropriateness is to ask, "what is my role here?" This can particularly help over-empath people.  You will know the ones, they abandon their role which could actually help, and next thing you know they are planning a cake stall fundraiser. 

By leading yourself with "as a leader, how can I help here?"  you will be more effective in helping and have an appropriate level of empathy. The answer might be more flexibility, access to counselling or any number of other effective solutions that over-empaths tend to miss while jumping right in the hardship boat beside them and paddling. 

Under-empaths need to do the same -"as a leader, how can I help here?"  This will kick the empathy gene into gear and help define that as a leader you have the ability to help and then set the tone for what is next.  The key to appropriate empathy is to understand and without first hearing and then framing your response you may end up with an imbalance. 

To achieve an empathetic balance, try...

Listening - with the intent to genuinely hear and understand

Framing your role in the conversation/ relationship in your mind

Asking questions to understand what the person thinks the solution or need is

Remembering your role - understand and use appropriate empathy based on your role.

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