How to use empathy to get more from your team and improve workplace communication.

15th May 2018

Empathy is fundamental to building strong, trusting professional relationships. What more could you be doing to manage your team with greater compassion and understanding in order to improve communication, increase productivity and minimise loss of team morale?

In my job as an elocution teacher and public speaking coach, people often assume that my sole focus is on vocal technique, body language and overcoming nerves. Often however, there is a subtler side to my teaching, particularly when I am working with those in positions of authority who are required to motivate others and communicate difficult or bad news to subordinates without damaging morale and trust.

Be a manager, not an ogre!

When working with CEOs, senior managers and even those in the medical professional, I am always mindful that these are experts at the top of their game who have climbed their career ladders by being mentally astute, ambitious, driven, resolute and hard-working.

These are individuals who often thrive on results, not relationships, and who will almost certainly expect the same levels of excellence and detached determination from their subordinates as they demand of themselves. Showing weakness is an alien concept; whether admitting self-doubt or professional insecurity, failing to secure a big contract, or becoming overly pally with those beneath them on the career ladder. For these alpha-professionals, communicating bad or difficult news is often done in an abrupt, matter of fact way, with the overriding sentiment being: ‘These are the facts, this is what we are going to do about it, dry your eyes and get on with it.’

Make empathy your friend

What I always tell these individuals, is that when they are communicating difficult news (such as a contract loss, a professional rejection or a failure to hit key goals) or when they need to motivate their team to work harder and aim higher, using empathy will actually improve long-term results, efficiencies and trust, rather than being detrimental to a manager’s authority and making them seem ‘soft’.

In my experience, what many professionals fail to realise is that empathy is a key driver in maximising team productivity and morale. Indeed, a recent study by DDI found that leaders who were able to listen and respond with empathy, performed 40 per cent higher in overall performance, engagement, planning and decision making than those who weren’t.

Empathy is in your toolbox - use it!

You want a workforce who is loyal and hard-working and yet who gets results, right? The same DDI study also found that, surprisingly, only 40% of frontline leaders were considered to be proficient or strong in empathy. Furthermore, a 2017 Gallup Report found that only 15 per cent of a workforce were ever fully engaged, leaving a staggering 85 per cent of workers functioning at a sub-optimal level, simply going through the motions with indifference to the outcome.

Getting the most out of your workforce by using empathy to communicate and motivate your team, whilst also using empathy to help understand why the vast majority of employees ‘can’t be bothered’ to give their all at work, is one of a manager’s most powerful devices when they want to achieve greater productivity and yet it is one of the workplace’s most underused and underdeveloped assets.

What is empathy?

Before I go on, I should probably define exactly what I mean when I talk about empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes and to see things from their perspective. It is the capacity to understand a situation from another person’s viewpoint and to have an awareness of that person’s thoughts and feelings and an understanding of the impact that your words will have on them. In other words, if you were the person being addressed, how would you best like a piece of news or an instruction to be communicated in order for it to have the most positive impact possible?

Some key points to remember:

My top tips for becoming a more empathetic leader:


About Cambridgeshire Elocution

Cambridgeshire Elocution is run by vocal coach and presenter Charlotte Grundy. Charlotte works with individuals who have lost confidence in their voice and aims to help people communicate clearly, effectively and with personality. Charlotte believes that the key to changing the way we sound is through having a clear understanding of how the voice works. For more information, visit
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