Empathy – what is it and what are the benefits?

By: Cathy Marinacci, 26 March 2021 Categories: Culture & engagement

One of the biggest adjustments Juniper has embraced over the last year is how we deliver and facilitate our leadership development programmes. What was once a two-day long, monthly, face-to-face experience is now a series of bite-sized workshops, delivered virtually, lasting no more than a morning or afternoon – with plenty of breaks to stretch and grab a coffee!

As we re-purposed the content to fit the new format, one topic that we knew had to remain in the programmes was empathy. One of the twelve critical building blocks of emotional intelligence in leaders, Daniel Goleman describes empathy as “having the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they see things”. He continues, “Leaders skilled at empathy take an active interest in the concerns of others, pick up cues to what’s being felt and thought, and sense unspoken emotions. They listen attentively to understand the other person’s point of view and can communicate effectively with many different types of people.”

One of the activities in our programmes is “Another’s Shoes”, where participants are asked to spend just sixty seconds reflecting on what life is like in the shoes of a fellow participant, usually someone they work alongside. They consider their objectives, values, challenges and anything else they know about the person. Afterwards, the two individuals exchange thoughts and validate one another’s perceptions. A discussion around the benefits of exercising their “empathy muscle” follows, highlighting areas such as:

  • having a better grasp of what someone deals with in the daily job (that may be otherwise hidden or underestimated)
  • what motivates them
  • what “language” they speak, for example their personality style and associated traits
  • the impact of external factors on the above

This awareness and heightening of cognitive empathy (understanding) and emotional empathy (rapport / chemistry) equips leaders with the ability to build stronger relationships, and ultimately drive more successful change programmes. Patti Sanchez explains this in her HBR article The Secret to Leading Organisational Change is Empathy, “Develop and show empathy for everyone involved in your corporate transition, and you’ll lead a team that feels valued, included, and driven to help your initiative succeed.”