Understanding Your Team

Effective leadership does not just involve the ability to get things accomplished. Good leaders are skilled at understanding other people’s perspectives. But what does it mean exactly to understand where someone else is coming from, to empathize with others on the team?

Let us first consider what this skill does not involve. While it is a normal reaction to sympathize with someone, sympathy is very different from empathy. When we sympathize with someone who is having a rough day, for example, we may say, “I am sorry to hear about your bad afternoon.” Sympathy comes from our own perspective of the person’s challenges.shutterstock_305493575

By contrast, empathy utilizes the pronoun “you” instead of “I” as the communicator seeks to understand the other person’s feelings or position. For example, you might say to the patient care coordinator, “You certainly had your hands full with that last patient. What happened?” In this example, you do more than simply recognize the patient care coordinator’s challenges; you seek to understand what happened from that person’s perspective. This insight is especially important as we try to unravel conflict or understand how to best coach a team member.

Another misconception is that empathy means being nice. While it may seem admirable that you want to understand someone’s position or feelings about a situation, you often need those insights to tailor how you will deliver corrective feedback or bad news. Empathy does not water down a difficult conversation you need to have with a team member; instead by understanding as much as you can about the person and situation, your chances for a successful outcome are far greater.shutterstock_319060253

Therefore, if you want to get the most from your team, make the effort to understand their perspectives and then tailor your leadership approach accordingly.

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