According to the dictionary, em·pa·thy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” We are said to have empathy for another person when we understand what they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.

Empathy is the basis of relationships. It helps connect you with another person. It opens the door to  building relationships of influence and persuasion. Empathy helps you to motivate others. When you know what someone thinks and feels, you are in a better position to help them get what they want and need.

So it’s no surprise, that empathy is necessary for leadership.

 In his latest book, Focus, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman describes the importance of “Other Focus” or how well we attune to people.

“Our empathy allows us to understand how people perceive things, how they feel, and what we can do to help them be at their best. And tuning in to others this way provides the basis for skill in competencies like motivating employees, persuasion and influence, negotiation and conflict resolution, and — increasingly important – teamwork and collaboration.”

How well do you know your employees? Your direct reports?

Do you know them well enough to understand what they think about their work? What they feel about the current project? Their workload? Their colleagues? Their work environment?  What motivates them? What do they want and need to be successful?

How well do you know your boss?

Do you know what he/she thinks? What they feel?  When you connect on a deeper level by demonstrating empathy, you know what they want and need.  Therefore, it is be much easier for you to offer your help. This level of relationship contributes to an increase in trust over time.

As you build your own strategic network or personal advisory board, think about how you can make the relationships stronger. Think of leading with empathy to break down barriers and strengthen the connections you have with these people.

How do you know what people think or feel?

First of all, you observe and listen. Focus your attention on what they say and how they behave.

Secondly, ask! Don’t make assumptions. Ask specific questions to get a better understanding of their thoughts and feelings. This is a great example of how to build better relationships. When you show an interest in someone, it creates a bond.  

Empathy demonstrates that you care about the other person and have a keen interest in what they are thinking and feeling. It is the foundation of relationships of trust and influence.