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According to a recent YouGov survey, 51% of people in the UK believe that Britons’ ability to sense, understand and share the feelings of others has declined over the last 12 months.  This is particularly interesting as it comes at a time when appreciation of the importance of soft skills in leadership is rising among businesses.

A recent study by DDI  identified that of eight interpersonal skills, empathy was the most critical driver of overall performance for leaders, yet only 40% of leaders demonstrated this effectively. Interestingly empathy was the only trait that was deemed to be important across each of the four leadership domains that were measured- decision-making, coaching, engaging and planning and organising.  Furthermore, research at the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathy predicts better job performance for managers and leaders.

Why is empathy important?

For several years, research by the Center for Creative Leadership has shown that the nature of leadership is shifting, placing a greater emphasis on building and maintaining relationships. Being able to understand other people, their needs and drivers forms the basis for more complex relationship management skills, including teamwork, influencing, mentoring individuals, managing conflict and inspiring others. Leaders are increasingly having to work across organisational and cultural boundaries and need to create shared direction, alignment, and commitment between social groups with very different histories, perspectives, values, and cultures. It stands to reason that empathy would go a long way toward meeting these people-oriented managerial and leadership requirements.

How can I develop Empathy?

The good news is that research by Cambridge University found that empathy is largely a learned trait with 90% of individual differences in empathy due to non-genetic factors. Here are some examples of techniques to enhance your empathy:

  • Listen First, Speak Last- As a leader others will tend to defer to you. Change the dynamic by sitting back and letting colleagues present their views first.
  • Develop Active Listening- take time to summarise and paraphrase what you are hearing in order to demonstrate that you have truly understood.
  • Seek Other Perspectives- Think about issues from another person’s view when debating key issues or seeking to develop new solutions