Empathy in Technical Leadership

Seem like things are about to get touchy-feely? Keep reading.

Empathy is the ability to understand what other people are feeling and thinking. As a technical leader, you must possess the skill to be effective with your team. Without empathy you will make decisions that affect your team without having considered the impact it has on them. This inevitably damages morale and over time can cause contempt for your leadership.

How do we act out empathy with our team?

  • Concede always being right. There will be times when your personal experience has taught you that your view is “correct”. The issue is that you’ve formed your opinion based on your experiences. Try looking through the eyes of those on your team and you will gain a new perspective.
  • Focus. When talking with your team pay attention to what they are saying, the way they phrase their thoughts, and the expressions on their face. If you aren’t paying attention or have split focus you will miss subtle indicators that earn you insight into how they are feeling and thinking.
  • Communicate with empathy. The words your team members use are only one way in which they communicate. Monitor the nonverbal cues your team uses and value them more than the actual words that are spoken when analyzing a conversation. Ever had your spouse say “it’s totally fine” for you to go out with friends while they stay at home with the kids on a Friday night? If you were paying attention to nonverbal cues hopefully you pulled the plug on plans. If you didn’t, you probably only made that mistake once.If you have a remote team, it’s imperative that you are having regular face-to-face or video chat conversations so that you can observe the unspoken and gain a better understanding of where your team members stand. Chatroom messaging leaves far too much room for misunderstanding and lost emotion on the other end of a screen.
  • Fake it ‘til you make it. If you generally are not an empathetic person by nature or there is someone on your team you struggle to interact with empathetically, you need to fake it until you make it. Listen intently and without judgment. Take extra time to respond so that you can avoid reacting from your own point of view. Practice…practice makes perfect.

Having empathy with your team will earn you their respect. Team members will feel understood and that you care for their happiness and well-being. In return, you gain their allegiance and desire to serve the company with their best.