How to communicate with empathy when managing a team

When it comes to effective communication as a manager, you need to strike the balance between empathy and authority. But how can you achieve this?

Just as employees won’t listen to you if you speak without confidence, there’s also a high chance your message won’t get through if you talk without compassion. Around 90% of the workforce want managers who speak with honesty, fairness, and trust, making empathy a valuable asset if you want to be a successful leader.

Here’s how to communicate with empathy when managing a team.

Acknowledge your staff’s feelings

When employees talk to you, they want to feel not just listened to but understood. Verbally acknowledging the worries, concerns, or complaints of your employees is a must. They’ll feel as though you’re on their side, standing with them in solidarity, and will have more faith that you’re the one to fix the issue. 

Statements such as “You’re right to feel the way you do” and “It’s easy to see why that frustrates you” are perfect for communicating with empathy. You’re putting yourself in your employee’s shoes, which is the cornerstone of compassion.

Practice active listening

Active listening is crucial if you want to communicate with empathy. Though this has nothing to do with what you say, it has everything to do with ensuring your staff feel heard and understood.

If a member of your team comes to you, try to follow the 80:20 rule. This dictates that 80% of your conversation should be listening to them, and 20% should be responding to what they’re saying. You won’t be butting in or speaking out of turn, and your staff will feel that their words are important to you – as they should. The 80:20 rule can be applied to meetings and private conversations, ensuring your team always feel heard. 

Listening well doesn’t just mean staying quiet. Alongside the 80:20 rule, your entire body language should show that you’re paying attention. Make eye contact with the person who’s speaking, keep your body facing them, and don’t fidget whilst they speak. Your attention is entirely on them, and you’re showing them that visually.

Show your emotions

Empathy revolves around emotion. No matter how well your practice the other tips, if you don’t let your emotions shine through, then you’re going to come across as rigid and uncaring. When staff are sharing happy news, be happy with them! Crack a smile, shake their hand, and use an enthusiastic tone of voice. If they’re troubled, keep your expression thoughtful and lean in slightly, letting them know you’re taking their words seriously.

Know the facts to support your staff

You won’t have the answers to every question or problem that your team come to you with, but preparing yourself for a range of situations is wise. Being able to provide support is a great way to show empathy, expressing your willingness to help. 

One area to focus on is mental health. Around 10% of the world’s population have a mental illness, making it more than likely that you’ll come across struggling staff. Being able to help them when they come to you is a must, making them feel heard and cared for. Direct them to the right mental health resources for working professionals, discuss flexible and remote work opportunities, and let them know their position in your company is safe regardless of what they need from you.

You should also have the knowledge to support them with issues in-house. If an employee wants to level up or move department, be sure you can advise them on the next steps to proceed. If there’s a complaint against another staff member, be ready to tackle it. 

Live up to your words

Communicating with empathy isn’t just about the words you say or the advice you give, but the actions you take. Don’t leave your staff with empty promises! Continue to show them you care by following up your conversation with action. For example, if they come to you with a mental health problem, continue to check-in on them over the coming weeks, provide follow-up support, and make sure they’re happy with how the workplace is handling the issue. 

Show support and appreciation for your team

One of the best ways to show empathy and create a more positive work environment is by providing support and appreciation before it’s asked for. Make sure your team know that you’re there for them and have an open door to provide support, both for workplace and personal issues.

When staff do good work, let them know. When you think they’re struggling, ask them before they have to ask you. Expressing this level of care for your staff builds a stronger, happier team that will respect and follow your leadership.

Be honest and transparent

Not every conversation calls for a personal story, but when it’s appropriate, it’s an easy way to show your team that you understand them. This doesn’t mean going through the ins and outs of your experience, which could quickly take away from what they’re trying to say and make the conversation about you (remember the 80:20 rule!). 

However, simply saying, “I’ve had a similar experience with a difficult colleague in the past”, or “I know how you feel, I also struggled to ask for a pay rise when I was your age”, can do wonders for showing empathy. You’ll put your team member at ease, making it clear that you relate to and empathize with them due to your own experiences.

Lead with compassion for more success

Many CEOs forget that empathy is just as important as authority. By leading with compassion first, you’ll see far greater success in your managerial position. Just remember to actively listen, be ready to take action, and always show support before your team ask for it.