Why Empathy Is One of the Most Overlooked Skills in Business

It was a sunny day in April. The air was crisp and the walk ahead of us enjoyable.

I stared at the beautiful Embarcadero situated near our San Francisco office, feeling grateful for working close to such a stunning view.

Then I shifted my gaze over to Tim, my walking mate for the afternoon. We were on one of many walking meetings we’d shared over the past year. But this time was different.

Tim, a normally talkative employee, was dragging his heels and appeared disgruntled whenever I asked for status updates. He kept his head down, answering only in curt replies.

Something was off.

As his supervisor, I could have easily approached his behavior with a stern stance, by grilling him, or asserting my authority. But 14-plus years of entrepreneurship have taught me one thing: A harsh, adversarial response is never the answer.

Instead, I slowed my pace and asked him how things were going at home. “Is everything OK?”

Tim confided then that his father had recently had a stroke, and that he was taking turns spending nights at the hospital, leaving him tense and run-down.

I nodded. “I’m so sorry, that sounds very hard.”

“How can I support you?” I offered.

We spent some time talking over how to alleviate some of his load at work, and even scheduled some days off for him to be with his family.

After our conversation, it was as if a weight had been lifted. In our meeting afterward, he began eagerly participating, even offering feedback I hadn’t asked for.

Showing genuine care and concern only took a few seconds of my time, but it was enough to let Tim know that I was on his side. 

Related: How Companies Are Leading With Empathy

One of the most overlooked skills in business

Empathy — the capacity to recognize and understand other people’s feelings, to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” is a critical leadership skill. Common sense tells us that it’s a basic human quality most founders would have in their arsenal, but in fact, it’s one that many leaders often get wrong.

In a commencement speech on June 15, 2014, American business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates, stood before an audience of Stanford grads and spoke of channeling optimism into a conviction to make things better.

Original article here.

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