Updated: Sep 13, 2020
Empathy is an essential ingredient of emotionally intelligent leadership and necessary to being a good coworker. But it is also tricky – especially when a deadline is looming or emotions are high.
Empathetic listeners are quiet and patient–especially when it’s hardest–and avoid jumping in to fill gaps in the conversation or impose their assumptions. When you become frustrated, lose your patience, tune out, or silently craft a snide rebuttal, ask questions to open up communication and create psychological safety.
“How is this situation affecting you?” As you listen, watch their body language and ask for details.
“How is this keeping you from succeeding?” It's easier to resolve conflicts early and avoid losing your patience over something else later. This question will also help build an open work environment that maximizes everyone's talents rather than paranoia complaints.
“What is getting in your way?” This question will help the person feel more comfortable explaining what's preventing them from contributing, allowing them to respond without feel blame or anger.
"What is the ideal outcome?” Even if the entire team or organization is working toward common goals, individuals usually have their objectives and aspirations. One manager might aspire for a larger leadership position, for example, while a salesperson may wish to obtain a considerable account. When tensions run high, remembering, and focusing on what is important to that individual will help you regain empathy needed to keep everyone pulling together. Asking others how and why they would each prefer a particular outcome will help you understand what is important to them.
“What do you think we should do to solve this?” This question will help the person move from an emotional state to a problem-solving mindset.
It takes a lot of effort not to let your negative feelings overwhelm you in the process. Still, sometimes the best strategy is the simplest one: Ask a question.