Empathy vs. Apathy

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Employees know when their leader is empathetic or apathetic.  Apathy has such a negative tone to it, yet in a conversation a leader can demonstrate apathy by not listening, being distracted and seeking to fix.  Empathy is a skill that can be improved.  You can take a quick assessment for FREE to see how empathetic you are.  Several great authors and organizational analyzers would say that empathy is one of the greatest skills we need moving into this new world of work.

What exactly is empathy?  Sympathy is about feeling sorry for someone whereas empathy is deeper.  It is about a sense of understanding another’s feelings, needs and thoughts without owning them. Why does empathy matter for leaders?

You might consider what makes a great leader.  A great leader is able to influence their people toward a shared vision. If employees do not experience their leader as being able to understand their own feelings, needs and thoughts, this will erode trust and therefore lessen influence.  In the workplace, employees want to be respected, valued and included.  For a leader to respect, value and include, they had better tune into the needs of their team.

I recently read the book “Flourish” by Martin Seligman a positive psychologist. In his book he shares the key factors that allow individuals to flourish.  He uses the acronym PERMA to explain.  The first Positive Emotion (PE) is about having more positive experiences in life and work than negative.  In fact, we need about 3.5 – 13.5 positive experiences per unit of work to more fully engage.  Relationships (R) need to be positive or affirming.  Meaning (M) is about having our work be about purpose and focused on our values.  The last letter “A” is about Accomplishment.  Employees want to know that they can contribute to the mission through results.

As a leader, you can influence each of these –

1.) Positive Emotions– Track your emotions throughout the day.  Are you having & creating more positive experiences throughout the day or more negative? If there are too many negative emotions you need to consider why and make changes.  OR in your next meeting track the number of positive comments and negative comments.  If it does not fit between 3.5 and 13.5, then make the adjustment at the next meeting.

2.) Relationships -Evaluate the relationships you have with your direct reports and / or peers.  Would you say they leave each of those conversations feeling trusted, connected and inspired? If not, it is time to invest time through empathetic conversation.

3.) Meaning – Is the work you are providing people meaningful? And do you as the leader find the work you are doing meaningful?

4.) Accomplishment – Do you leave each day feeling like you have made progress and made a difference? Are you focused on the strategic priorities of the day to ensure you are accomplishing key tasks?

What changes do you need to make to ensure you are leading with empathy and creating a positive work culture?