Seeing the human behind the employee starts with empathy and compassion. These are two fundamentally different but closely related concepts. Empathy is an awareness of others’ emotions and feelings. Compassion is an emotional response to empathy and creates a desire to help—it converts a feeling into action.

A healthy leader taps into these two sides of love to serve employees more completely. When you have empathy for other people, your brain predicts what they’ll think, feel, and do. The more familiar the other people are to you, the more efficient your brain predicts their inner struggles. When people are less familiar to you, it can be harder to empathize.

You can start building empathy by learning one new thing about each team member each week. Consider entering a recurring, weekly appointment on your calendar reminding you to ask questions so you can learn about the people on your team.

Another strategy for increasing workplace empathy is to walk a day in their shoes. Shadow team members occasionally so that you really know what a day is like for them—the challenges, stresses, and joys they encounter. When you know the person and their story, both inside and outside work, it is much easier to demonstrate empathy and compassion. We can then help team members address challenges so they can grow.

In addition to shadowing and regular check-ins with team members, one way to cultivate empathy and compassion within your team is to start each team meeting with a quick “High/Low” around the group. The team leader starts by stating one “High” (something positive that happened) and one “Low” (something negative that happened) since the last meeting.

The Highs and Lows can be personal or work-related. Each person in the group does the same around the table or the call. For instance, a leader’s High might be that her daughter just won a piano competition, and a Low might be that a key player decided to leave the company. A team member’s High could be that he hit last week’s deadline and was under his expense budget, while the Low could be that his father was just diagnosed with cancer.

Our clients have found it to be a valuable window into the worlds of their team members. It creates real-time opportunities to support employees who need help; for instance, lending resources to get a project back on track or having dinner sent home during trying times.

The sharing of Highs enables you to recognize people for positive contributions, such as the time they spent over the weekend serving the needy or going the extra mile to recover a customer who had left. The sharing of Lows helps build empathy within your team and enables you to show compassion by taking supportive actions.

Healthy Leadership Book