Empathy is one of the most important skills for leaders. When you practice empathy, you open the door to stronger relationships with your colleagues, employees and clients. Empathy allows you to understand where other people are coming from and to build authentic connections with them. Empathy can also be a game-changer when it comes to retaining talent. One study found that 75 percent of employees would choose an employer with an empathetic culture over an employer offering higher pay.

Showing empathy is not about feeling sorry for others, but rather a way to foster loyalty, create inclusion and inspire productivity, says Dr. Betty Johnson, a consultant and university professor. If you think becoming a more empathetic leader will be difficult or time-consuming, take heart. Dr. Johnson says you can boost your empathy in three simple steps. We outline her guidance in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

1. Listen to understand. The first step to boosting your empathy as a leader is to really listen to your team members. Don’t try to downplay what they’re feeling or tell them everything will be okay. Just listen, even if they say something you don’t want to hear. Dr. Johnson recommends asking questions such as, “What’s this like for you?” and “Say more? I’m interested.”

2. Show your understanding. This doesn’t mean jumping in to share your own similar experiences, but rather staying fully present and mirroring the other person. If they’re upset, allow your face to show sadness, and if they’re stoic, adopt a stoic expression yourself, suggests Dr. Johnson. Remember that the focus is on the other person. You can stay in your own reality while letting their experience evoke something similar in you, she adds.

3. Ask what you can do. Being an empathetic leader means listening but also looking for ways to make a situation better. Maybe your team member just needed someone to listen, or maybe some flexibility in their schedule could help them through a challenging time. If you don’t ask how you can help, you won’t be able to make things better for them in the most meaningful way. Dr. Johnson notes that if you can provide what they need, you’ll benefit as well with their productivity, loyalty, commitment, trust and engagement.

Empathetic leadership encourages change. Dr. Johnson says that when you choose to understand another person instead of just reacting to them, you can help get them moving in the right direction. Empathy is how you can build trusting teams and enduring work relationships. Although your calendar may be packed, it’s always worthwhile to slow down and lend an understanding ear to your team members. Learn how you can help the other person and then deliver on what you say you will do. When you commit to building your empathy as a leader, you benefit not only from employee retention but from a spirit of community and commitment on your team.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Dr. Betty Johnson is a consultant, executive coach, keynote speaker and university professor. She founded Bridging the Difference LLC in 2010.