Can empathy really hurt your career? Read this and let’s see what you think.

Ken was a mid-level manager at a recruitment firm. Folks saw Ken as a “good guy.” He was well-liked by his employees and on good terms with upper-management. His team felt comfortable confiding in him; they often used his open-door policy to share their personal problems.

When Ken got word from upper-management that his team brought in the lowest numbers that quarter, he immediately knew the cause. Caitlin—previously the team’s top-earner—had been off her game for months. Her father’s poor health had caused her to miss work and diminished her productivity and focus in the office. Ansh’s work had also been suffering. Ken knew Ansh had been through a break-up recently and wasn’t taking it well.

In both instances, Ken hadn’t interfered. He knew the company’s bottom-line was being affected, but his empathy for Caitlin and Ansh kept him from giving them critical feedback, crucial for getting them back on track. Ken simply hoped their lackluster results would improve with time. They didn’t. And Ken’s reputation at the firm suffered.

We often talk about leaders who lack emotional intelligence, but a distortion in EI can also go too far in a leader. Empathy is a critical competency for understanding others’ points of view and finding common ground with people whose experiences differ greatly from our own. But great leaders also balance their empathy with strengths in other competencies.

Leaders who have a mindset that empathy does not allow needed feedback may have deficits in related EI competencies, such as conflict management. Ken’s empathy made him well-liked, but his misinterpretation of a leader’s role and what empathy means led him to avoid tough decision-making as well as not giving negative feedback.”

My Analysis:

Coleman makes a good point, and opens a much bigger question he didn’t deal with.

If you have a culture of truth-telling, you would avoid the problem Goleman points out.

Actually, I think it’s more conflict avoidance, which is RAMPANT in corporate america.

Empathy isn’t about engaging or not engaging. It’s about understanding another’s viewpoint, being aware of your emotional landscape, mutual vulnerability and it can be used as an interruption of power.

Here is a good podcast on Empathy by Knowledge@Wharton and new book, “I Feel You: The Surprising Power of Extreme Empathy.”

Great leaders don’t avoid discomfort and they consistently engage in difficult conversations. They use empathy as part of their process to understand what’s going on and to get more accurate information.

There are a very small amount of companies who have a culture like this. And I’ve never seen a large organization prioritize enough to make it a reality. This conflict avoidance makes a huge negative impact on the bottom line and key metrics.

What should you be asking? You need to be truth-telling and being direct so you can get more accurate information and dispel stories that hurt your relationships, performance, leadership, and collaboration. Every manager should be asking their employees on a monthly basis,”Rate your work product (customize for your work function & challenge you are focusing on) on a scale 1-10, one being poor and Reb being extraordinary. Why do you give yourself that number (and what data supports that)? What do you need to do differently to move it closer to a 10? What’s preventing you from doing that?”

Read the rest of the above article I quoted here:

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This