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Fear of Using Empathy in the Workplace In Performance Management

There is a real fear of using empathy in the workplace.

The fear is that empathy is too soft a communication strategy to manage performance effectively.

This fear popped up with a client last week in one of the two contexts empathy should be applied, in individual one-on-one situations.

While coaching a mid-level manager struggling with the performance of one of her team members, her boss grilled me about all this empathy

She challenged me, “this is all well and good to make the employee feel better but we still have to deal with the performance issues.
When do we get to that.?”

“After the individual has an opportunity to feel heard about their frustrations and challenges, and the emotions they are feeling around it have been diffused.”

Once the emotion is diffused there is an opportunity for a frank conversation about what has to come next.

The transition is more art than science.

Knowing when to make that transition requires deep, sincere listening.

That in itself is a challenge.

My wife, a new manager of 16 months now, came to me a few weeks ago and said, “I finally realized listening isn’t just about waiting for
somebody to stop talking.”

My wife explained the importance of that epiphany to her, “if you’re a talker, like me, you’re sitting there chomping at the bit to jump in
and make your point. You’re not really listening.”

Then, she added, “and you’re certainly not listening with empathy!”

And, that’s what leaders need to do.

Twenty-five years ago Stephen Covey coined the phrase, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Habit #5 in his book on “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

I’m amazed at how many people can quote that statement, and how few actually practice it.

That’s empathy. Listening to understand.

Empathy is being genuinely curious. Curious enough to be open to noticing how someone is feeling, and then why someone is feeling that

Next time I’ll offer some examples of empathy statements and how someone fearful of using it because it’s too soft and will never allow
for the transition to getting your point across can be done.

All of March’s FREE Strategy Sessions have been scheduled, look for April’s to be released in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, you can learn about one of the contexts of workplace empathy in my newest white paper report:

“How to Transform Your Workplace from Drama & Defensiveness to Employee Initiative & Ownership”

Download your free copy at this link:

Make it a great week!

Best Regards,

P.S. – I’m really excited because next week I’ll be presenting my first seminar on the topic of “How to Transform Your Workplace from Drama & Defensiveness to Employee Initiative & Ownership” to a sold out audience at the Rochester (NY) Business Alliance. So the webinar is not far behind, grab the report today at

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