Empathy, or its lack, can make or break a coach’s business success. Core to emotional intelligence, empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the feelings, motivations, and viewpoints of others. Empathy, in its most basic form, simply means good “people skills.” Empathetic coaches excel at managing relationships and making connections with others.
But empathy should not be confused with “being nice.” Growth is sometimes painful. That means we must act in our clients’ best interests, challenging their limiting beliefs and holding them accountable for following through on action items, which inevitably causes some level of discomfort as they stretch and grow.
What’s a coach to do when empathy doesn’t come easy?
You can start by acting on the following suggestions:
- Learn to identify your own feelings. How can we, as coaches, empathize with how others are feeling if we’re not sure how we feel ourselves? Coaches with a more analytical bent frequently default to a thinking versus a feeling mode. Avoid overanalyzing and instead learn to identify your emotions. As you do, you will better understand your clients’ emotions.
- Put yourself mentally in your client’s shoes. Working with a client who has been laid off from work? Put yourself in his or her shoes. For example, imagine how you would feel raising three children and being out of work. Or how would you feel if you just received a diagnosis of cancer? Imagine yourself in specific scenarios your clients are currently facing. It works, doesn’t it?
- Identify shared areas of interest. Remember that like attracts like. If your caseload is like mine, you’ll find that you tend to draw people who have things in common with you. As a creative woman in leadership, I tend to draw strong, independent women and artists. In fact, they make up the majority of my caseload. But for those who are markedly different from me, I am intentional about finding commonalties. During the initial consultation, I work hard to identify what those areas are. But make no mistake; it takes time and work to build a bridge that spans two different worlds.
- Cultivate your active listening skills. Actively listening is also called empathetic listening. It makes an effort to hear what the client says and doesn’t say. It goes beyond words and reads tone, body language, and fluctuations in pacing as the client talks. Empathetic listening is about listening to understand. If you struggle in this area, enlist the help of a friend or colleague, or better yet, hire a coach who can help you grow your listening skills.
Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence and a critical skill for your coaching success. Fortunately, with time and persistance, it’s one you can develop.
How can you cultivate greater empathy?