Empathy is the ability to understand and respond to another person’s feelings and experiences. The function of empathy in our brains evolved during the evolution process. We are social beings – by being able to read the signals that another person sends us, we predict their intentions and can protect ourselves or help someone else. The ability to “read” another’s emotions is natural (in the absence of autism disorder or Asperger’s syndrome). Research conducted with infants confirms – we know how to recognize the emotions of others since birth.
Empathy works like a mirror – we reflect other people’s feelings in our faces, expressions and thus send signals to the brain. As a result, the partners who live together become similar. By repeating each other’s emotions, we gain similar wrinkles.
When it comes to evolution – only the strongest will survive and it is enough to take care of yourself. Then why is it worth taking into account another person’s feelings or experiences? A single man in the field is not a warrior – you will not survive long enough. Throughout the ages, only those nations and families survived, that knew how to take care not only of themselves but also of their loved ones, community, society.
This also applies to business – if the fate of the start-up only depends on the owner, the business is doomed to fail. The owner will be the “neck of the bottle” in which ideas and possibilities get stuck. The winners are companies that manage to develop their organization, starting by building a team.
Empathy is one of the social functions of our brain. It functions in the middle part of the forehead area of the brain and is activated when we perceive the other as a human being. There is a term – dehumanization – the lack of perceiving another person as a human being. This results in a situation when the principles of morality no longer apply. Dehumanization is a component of genocide. Genocide is possible when a large group of the population no longer considers another part of society or a nation to be human. Treats them as second-class, animals, inferior beings and etcetera. Propaganda is the main tool for perpetuating dehumanization. Both in Nazi Germany and the Bosnian War propaganda tools were used to dehumanize another group.
Sometimes we no longer see each other as the same (valuable) person even nowadays.
However, this article is about empathy in the manager’s work. Without empathy, a leader will not be able to put together a team, respond to people’s needs. In what specific situations does the manager use empathy?
– Listening to a colleague or employee, understanding his/her perspective, mindset.
– Seeing how the employee feels and being able to respond to the employee’s feelings. It is not necessarily about wiping the tear. Having noticed the feelings of the employee in general, a manager can choose how to react, decide what is best in that situation. If a manager doesn’t notice at all – the manager has no choice.
– In communication – to inspire, to motivate.
– Creating an exciting, unifying vision.
– Being able to understand and distinguish which rude remark can offend and demotivate employees.
– Creating an equal relationship. And that is what all employees want – to feel like communicating with a person, not with the manager.
– Uniting a team. The team that is built on trust, respect, and acceptance is united – people share empathy and the same moral values.
When the leader is ready to sacrifice for the team, then the team will be ready to sacrifice for the leader.
Dr. Alisa Miniotaitė is a management and leadership expert, founder of UAB ALISA MANAGEMENT LABORATORY, ISM University of Management and Economics, Leadership Program Manager