Empathy.  Really?

“Stop telling me to be empathetic,” he huffed. “I don’t know how to do that… it’s just not natural for me.”

Exasperated, Joe finally said this to me after the umpteenth time we discussed how he could connect better with his team. 

I stopped for a minute and thought about his reaction to my “recommendation”.   It finally dawned on me that “empathy” was not a universal gift.  In fact, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another[1]” is not natural to many of the executives with whom I work. 

There are some simple ways to engage others, specifically from the C-suite to lower-level departments, in a more empathetic way, even if the executive claims to lack the “empathy” gene.

  1. Be Curious. When engaging in conversations with lower-level employees, ask open-ended questions and be willing to actively listen to the response.  A few examples?  “How are you doing with your work schedule?”  “What is working most effectively for you” or “What is most difficult for you right now?” “What projects, or career paths, are of most interest?”
  2. Ask for Clarification. Don’t shy away from digging a bit deeper.  Some examples that engage in deeper conversation include: “What would you recommend in regard to adjusting your work schedule?”  “What would that new schedule look like for you and how would that impact your family?”  “Why does that [project, career path] interest you?”
  3. Words Matter. As executives continue their upward trajectory, they often fail to remember where they’ve come from and how to relate to lower-level employees. Minor comments overheard from an executive, like “I can’t believe my assistant was late again” or “that report I got from Jane wasn’t good” can sound insensitive to those at lower levels in the organization. 

Executives who are curious, ask clarifying questions, and consider who’s in earshot of comments can instill great trust and respect throughout the organization.  This method also sets a great example for up-and-coming leaders. 


When I shared these solutions with Joe, he smiled and said, “Now those are things I can do.”  This seemingly minor conversation with Joe turned the tide with him deepening his team’s relationships. 

Caution: Don’t think that this is a once and done solution.  Empathy, and the steps outlined above, is not learned immediately.  It takes time to change your mindset and engage in different behaviors to develop the habit of having deeper connections through communication.

Changing mindsets and developing new habits and behaviors can feel daunting. So, whether you’d like your executive team to work in a group program, or have an individual, customized advisory program designed just for you, my programs focus on the results that can take you, and your organization, to the next level. Let’s chat.


Want to build the right culture with the right people?  You can start by looking at your employee base, how you recruit, hire, onboard, and retain: click here to hire intentionally (click the “start for free” icon to get started). 

Employees already rock it and you’re ready to take your team to the next level? Click here to build (and grow) your team intentionally.

P.S. Book a Complimentary Strategy Session so we can get you moving in the right direction; click on my Complimentary Strategy Session calendar link here and let’s book a time together so you can get started today!

P.P. S. With over three decades of professional experience in corporate operations and executive human resources, I am a proven results-driven leader. My expertise includes strategy, change management, talent management and organizational development, employee relations, and executive and leadership coaching. I am a highly effective communicator and team leader with demonstrated ability to build long-term relationships across internal and external customer environments built with integrity, confidence, authenticity, and trust.

 [1] what is empathy - Search (bing.com)