In the workplace, empathy gets little attention until leaders are reminded of the concept of Emotional Intelligence, or the ability to read and adjust to the emotional needs of self and others. Birkman defines empathy as how people utilize emotions - not whether they have or do not have emotions. People with high scores in empathy have a preference to talk through their concerns. They tend to solve their own problems by hearing themselves think through issues. A close colleague or a patient supervisor can be subjectively supportive - allowing the other person the space or appropriate questioning that results in a solution free discussion. People on the opposite end of the spectrum will bring issues to their manager’s attention as a means to generate practical, experienced solutions. They actually seek the other’s opinions and wisdom as a guide.
Please do not make the common mistake of believing that this is isolated to male - female communications. It is not. I’ve worked with many male C- Level executive clients with high empathy scores who solve problems and innovate while speaking directly with their advisors, peers and reports. They do not enjoy being shut down with practical concerns for restrictive budgets or technological roadblocks. Doing so may infuriate them (also indicating that empathy is not just about the soft side of emotions). I have also known quite a few powerful executive women who leave their emotional selves at home while being called upon to make rational, pragmatic decisions on the job. They tend to be tough minded yet fair.
There is any easy way to know the empathic tendencies of your peers and direct reports. Have them take the Birkman Method Assessment. It literally tells what level of emotiveness that a person is likely to offer others or need in return. Quite simply, if you know another person’s Need for Empathy score it changes the way you are likely to communicate with that person. Call or email me to find out more, please!