It’s easy to get caught up in the doing. Last year, I worked with a senior executive; let’s call him Michael – who had received feedback from his peers that he had been wearing his title on his sleeve in a way that was seen as a power play.
Michael’s feedback indicated that he had developed subtle ways of always being right in meetings and people had begun to fear offering up their own opinions, fearful of his decisions and evaluations and overall feared him. There had been a shift in Michael since being promoted, and given more pressure and results to manage, he had become less of a team player. In short, he had lost his empathy.
This is not an uncommon story, and in fact research shows that personal power actually interferes with our ability to empathise. Power can actually change how the brain functions, suffering deficits in empathy, the ability to read emotions, and the ability to adapt behavior to other people.
In Michael’s case he had forgotten the little things, for example; his team felt when he was on the shop floor he was oblivious to their existence or the staff that were quite junior, he would never remember their names and always seemed to look straight through them in a meeting.
Employees want to ‘feel’ that you care about them. They want to ‘feel’ that you can see their point of view. A leader’s role is to facilitate the growth in others and bring out the best in them and empathy is a critical ingredient in applying this at work. Rather than look at results versus relationships perhaps let’s flip it to be; relationships before results.
The economic exchange of empathy in a customer service environment is articulated best in the Harvard Business Review article ‘An emotional Connection Matters More than Customer Satisfaction’
On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers. These emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, visit you more often, exhibit less price sensitivity, pay more attention to your communications, follow your advice, and recommend you more – everything you hope their experience with you will cause them to do. Companies deploying emotional-connection-based strategies and metrics to design, prioritize, and measure the customer experience find that increasing customers’ emotional connection drives significant improvements in financial outcomes.
Your customers are humans. Read and respond to emotions accurately and you are halfway there. 
Like any habit, empathy can be learned; it simply needs repeated experiences and practice.
Try this on for size……
An activity for leaders who wish to invest in greater self-awareness on their emotional congruency and empathy with their teams is as follows;

  1. list several events that occurred in the last week in which you communicated a message.
  2. Rate each item on a scale of 1 to 10 regarding how well you believed you communicated the message – content and emotions
  3. List what emotions were reflected and how they were conveyed verbally and non-verbally
  4. List how effective the response was from your team/ employee
  5. Did you feel personally satisfied about the conclusion of the interaction?
  6. What could you have said or not said to increase your level of satisfaction?

Jaquie Scammell
‘Why serve when you can inspire’