6 expressions that empathetic leaders avoid

“Empathy” is kind of the buzzword as of late, and for good cause. A latest Catalyst report, “The Energy of Empathy in Instances of Disaster and Past,” reveals that workers who’ve empathetic managers and leaders are extra artistic and engaged.

Within the lexicon of leaders, “empathy” is considered as a superpower, with a uniformly constructive that means. It derives from the Greek phrase empatheia, which comes from “in” and “feeling.” After we relate to the sentiments of others, we present empathy.

Delicate leaders present empathy within the type of care, concern, and understanding. If an worker seems unhappy, depressed, or is self-isolating, a very good chief usually reaches out to them. However well-intended empathy can backfire. At occasions, we might imagine we’re being empathetic, however we find yourself insulting or hurting the very individual we needed to assist. The next six expressions characterize refined missteps:


1. “I heard you’re upset”

This slip occurs after we point out that we’ve been discussing an individual’s well-being with another person.

Suppose you’re the boss and somebody in your staff tells you, “Rebecca is feeling down.” So with one of the best of intentions you go to Rebecca and inform her you’ve heard she’s upset—or (even worse) that a particular colleague mentioned she’s upset. It could appear to you an act of empathy, however assume how Rebecca feels when she hears that different persons are speaking about her and her obvious troubles. If you’ll present empathy, don’t convey a 3rd social gathering into the dialog.

2. “Are you depressed?”

One other fake pas lies in labeling somebody’s psychological state.

When you really feel an worker is experiencing difficulties, providing your analysis will solely make issues worse. Giving an unscientific “studying” on the scenario if you find yourself not a medical skilled is out of line. The perfect factor to do for those who suspect that somebody in your group is depressed or burnt out is to watch the signs—lack of motivation, or failure to finish tasks—and supply assist to assist that particular person.

3. “You look down”

On this pandemic interval, we could not appear like our regular vibrant selves. However don’t assume the worst from somebody’s seems.

Discover one thing sort to say to everybody, particularly those that seem to want a pick-me-up. If a colleague seems “down,” praise them on one thing they’re carrying, or word one thing constructive they’ve completed. Ask about a side of their life that is constructive— or point out a latest achievement at work.


This will likely be so a lot better to your colleague than reinforcing damaging (and probably false) assumptions. You simply would possibly discover out that they don’t seem to be down, however had been deep in thought and also you confused that contemplative state with unhappiness.

4. “HEY, WHAT’S UP?”

When you see somebody who could also be in want a contact of empathy, a basic “Hey, what’s up?” gained’t do the trick. This informal expression can appear flip to somebody who wants an actual dose of empathy. So many individuals at the moment have deep issues about life, their households, or the office. A greater, extra really empathetic method of chatting with them is to pay attention by asking real questions. You would possibly inquire: “Are your youngsters again in class?” or “What tasks are you now engaged on?” Probe gently, somewhat than tossing flimsy clichés of their course.

5. “I’m involved about you”

This expression, although caring, instantly places the opposite individual in a damaging mild. After we hear somebody say to us, “I’m involved about you,” or “I’m fearful about you,” we regularly really feel a lot worse. Positive, the speaker is perhaps attempting to precise empathy, however that concern comes freighted with damaging assumptions.

As an alternative of claiming you’re involved, present real concern by talking with that individual, asking questions, and spending time with them in a constructive method. You would possibly take them to lunch or have a pleasant chat a couple of shared curiosity. Giving your time and psychological power is much extra empathetic than simply stating that you’re involved.

6. “When you can’t end that venture, I’ll perceive”

Although this comes from a sort place, the worst factor you are able to do for an overwhelmed worker is to undercut them. Implicit on this expression is your low opinion of that individual’s skills.

In accordance with a Harvard Enterprise Overview article on managing an worker with melancholy, “motivation in depressed workers plummets within the face of threats and punishment.” When you counsel an underperforming worker ought to step again from a activity, you could really feel you’re doing that particular person a favor. However it could truly really feel such as you’re punishing them, and that might decrease their sense of self-worth. That is significantly true for somebody going through private challenges.

As an alternative, work on a plan that will allow that member of your staff to satisfy targets and succeed. Maybe different staff members may also help, or the deadline might be prolonged, or the venture might be damaged down into extra manageable chunks. Serving to your workers obtain success is one of the best type of empathy.