Why Empathetic HR Leaders Are More Effective

January 22, 2018

Empathy is a critical HR leadership skill. It helps build and sustain positive workplace relationships, foster diversity and inclusion, encourage cooperation and collaboration, and facilitate conflict management.

Why Empathy Is an Essential HR Leadership Skill

Empathy is the ability to place yourself (psychologically speaking) in another person's shoes—to understand their thoughts, feelings and perspective. Empathy makes it possible to work cooperatively with people who have very different experiences, preferences, styles and opinions.

Empathy is a versatile, multidimensional skill that can be applied to nearly every complex HR challenge.

Creating a More Empathetic Culture

A meaningful assessment process can identify trouble spots where behaviors and activities communicate a lack of empathy, and then leaders can devise both cultural and programmatic solutions at each level of the business.

Coaching and mentoring are particularly effective ways to cultivate a more empathetic culture. These relationships may spring up spontaneously or be part of a more formalized program that pairs people based on compatibility, need and availability.

Nontraditional and less hierarchical models are emerging such as reverse mentoring and digital coaching. They provide a framework for people from different generations to better understand, relate to and work with each other. Peer coaching and buddy mentoring relationships foster collaboration and camaraderie.

Learning to Be More Empathetic

You can learn empathy through patience, practice and persistence.

  • Actively listen more than you speak. An empathetic person listens first and only speaks after hearing what the other person is saying.
  • Express your perspective. After you've heard what the other person has to say, share how you think you'd feel in the same situation.
  • Be vulnerable. Share a story of your own about when you encountered a similar situation or problem. This softens the situation and makes you more relatable.
  • Don't make assumptions. Assumptions interfere with your ability to empathize. To be truly empathetic you have to let go of preconceived notions that are not based on true understanding or experience.
  • Use your imagination. It's impossible to have experienced every situation that others share with you. So you need to use your imagination to better understand how the other person is feeling. Fiction books can be a great way to experiment with trying to get into the mind and heart of a character whose experiences are profoundly different from your own.