5 Common Empathy Mistakes CEOs Make And How To Avoid Them

5 Common Empathy Mistakes CEOs Make And How To Avoid Them 960 641 C-Suite Network
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A direct report tells you in anguish that his computer crashed, taking the presentation he was preparing for the board with it. As a member of the C-suite, you’re accustomed to putting on your poker face, tamping down emotions and giving measured responses in a crisis. But what happens when you’d like to let your guard down and respond to a colleague in a human way?

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Much has been written about empathy as a key component of emotional intelligence (EI), which is a hallmark of effective leaders. Psychiatrist and author Daniel Goleman, who popularized the concept of EI, lists many benefits of empathy, such as being able to better understand others and to more effectively communicate. When he first became Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella asked his executives to read a book on how to collaborate empathically, signaling the importance of this leadership trait. Nadella is credited with increasing the company’s market value by $250 billion in four years, which many partially attribute to his empathetic attitude and focus on company culture as much as on technology.

The common definition of empathy, however — putting yourself in others’ shoes — can create problems. Eager to help, we misunderstand what it means to really comprehend and share others’ feelings. You might offer solutions or a sunny outlook that a coworker isn’t emotionally ready to accept. Despite good intentions, you’ll put the benefits of empathy at risk. Your colleague, rather than viewing your actions as supportive, may feel disconnected and dismiss you as an ineffective leader.

Here are five mistakes to avoid when trying to be empathetic:

Tell Others You Know How They Feel

We each experience events uniquely. We can’t truly know how someone else feels so saying, “I know how you feel” comes across as presumptuous or condescending. Your intent is to connect, but it can have the opposite effect. Instead, recap what the other person says she’s feeling or check that you’ve understood what she said before asking how you can…