When you show empathy, you make the effort to ‘step into the shoes of another person’ and become aware of their feelings and their thinking, and how these effect their perception. Sometimes, you may need to use your imagination to experience things from another’s perspective as if you are feeling it yourself. This will help you to understand the needs of others. Empathy does not mean you have to agree with how other people see things, but it does mean that you are willing to understand and appreciate what they are going what they are going through from their perspective. Empathy is a key element of Emotional Intelligence.
Distinguish between:
Three forms of empathy have been identified:
  • Cognitive empathy; you understand another’s thoughts and feelings, in a very rational, rather than  emotional way
  • Emotional empathy; you understand another’s thoughts and feelings in a way that you literally feel them too
  • Compassionate empathy; you understand another’s thoughts and feelings, and take action to help

Empathy in Leadership

Leadership is about other people. Empathy is the link between yourself and other people; it is the foundation of you as leader successfully inspiring your team with a compelling vision, motivating them to take action beyond their capability, and taking time to understand their needs for your support in dealing with challenges and problems that get in the way. You build trust as a result and stronger relationships among your team members and thereby, better collaboration and improved productivity. 

Being Empathetic

Being empathetic with another person is about gathering real information rather than speculation, it is usually more accurate to talk with them about their experiences than to imagine how they might be feeling. Ask them questions about how they feel; what they want; what they think. Be sure to spend more time actively listening, rather than talking so that you become aware of what the other person is experiencing and any difficulties they face. Listen attentively and generously to what they tell you; understand, assist, and support, while allowing them to have their moment. Be patient, focus on them completely and be present. Do not get distracted by anything else so that you are able to:
  • Understand and share what they are experiencing without passing judgement or making assumptions
  • Give them the feeling of being heard, understood and validated.


Recognise that:

  • Showing empathy through awareness and understanding takes time and effort
  • Showing empathy means putting the other person ahead of yourself
  • Understanding why another person thinks and feels the way they do about something can be a challenge


Having empathy will help you to:

  • Meet and engage with other people within the context of their own lives
  • Create bonds of trust and build better relationships
  • Be more aware of the needs of others, their problems and how to best help resolve them
  • Create an environment of open communication, trust and effective feedback by encouraging people to feel 
  • Safe to talk with you, and acknowledging the differences in the way people perceive the world
  • Recognise stakeholder concerns
  • Gain insight, empathy allows you to think before you judge or make assumptions
  • Make more informed decisions
  • Respond to, and influence others more effectively
  • Reduce conflict
  • Hold better meetings
  • Encourage flexibility, productivity and emotional balance
Agosta, L (2014). A Rumor of Empathy - Rewriting Empathy in the Context of Philosophy Palgrave-Macmillan
Baron-Cohen, S (2012). Zero Degrees of Empathy Penguin Books
Daskal, L (2017). The Leadership Gap Penguin Random House, N.Y, USA
Epley, N (2014). Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want Penguin Books
Goleman, D., Boyatsis, R. Davidson, R. J. et al. (2017). Empathy: A Primer (Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence) Book 6,  More Than Sound, MA, USA
Shapiro, J (2002). How do physicians teach empathy in the primary care setting? Academic Medicine, 77, 323–328