Will understanding tough empathy help build your business?

Are you bombarded with information about the importance of emotional intelligence quotient (EQ)?

Will understanding tough empathy help build your business?

How to do it right

Are you bombarded with information about the importance of emotional intelligence quotient (EQ)? There’s substantial research showing that people who are successful in a holistic way—not just at making money—have high emotional intelligence. In fact, research shows that your EI/EQ level is a much better indicator of professional success than your Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

In our post pandemic world, we’re flooded with info about improving the well-being of staff. So, do you have to be overflowing with empathy to be a great manager? No, you need to understand why a little toughness in balance with empathy is the way to attract great people, keep and motivate them. 

Empathy is defined as “The psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the emotions, thoughts, or attitudes of another: [as in] She put an arm around her friend’s shoulders and stood by her in silent empathy.”2     

Empathy is not sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, “Too bad you’re going through that”—but to remain emotionally aloof from their situation. 

Empathy is thinking, “How must it feel to go through that?”—to try and put yourself in that other person’s shoes, to understand their situation from their perspective.  Truly feeling empathy for another makes them feel valued. To be valued and heard is what most of want in human interaction of any kind.

How do leaders get tough empathy wrong?

In the context of a professional environment, tough empathy balances the business needs of the organization with the personal needs of the employees. 

Every business has goals, procedures, policies and to find success and must generally meet those goals or exceed them.  Quality organizations recognize their people are vital to meeting those goals and try to create an environment where people feel valued enough to flourish but at the same time make it clear that goals must be met. The perfect combination results in people performing at peak efficiency.  A little pressure can go a long way in balancing empathy to get the equilibrium right. 

We’ve all heard stories of supervisors or managers who are absolute taskmasters: “I don’t care about your personal problems; I’m only interested in results”.  Those managers are so focused on the end result and the bottom line that they lose their humanity, at least as far as the well-being of co-workers is concerned. 

On the flip side, some supervisors or managers are pushovers. They’re so empathetic, they listen to everybody’s problems, but the finish line stays in the distant future because they stop workflow with too much attention to the personal care of the staff.  Good managers have boundaries and expression of care, even if they at times, must say, “It is unfortunate you’re having this problem but right now we have to meet this deadline, so I am asking you to give me some time to get back to you on it.” 

“Tough empathy” is the sweet spot between the two. A supervisor or manager who understands this concept is probably also a high EQ individual and might say, “My team is like family, I care about what happens to you. I know you have lives outside the office, and I respect those other obligations. However, we still have to hit our goals.” That supervisor will build a safety net into their organizational procedures and policies so that, if one employee “fails” the rest of the team can step in, fill the gap and get the job done while helping that teammate deal with their situation. 

In its simplest form, it’s about balance and creating a cohesive, mutually supportive business team. 

Finding the Balance

How does a person find that balance, personally or in business? It requires a lot of introspection. You can start by setting aside some time and asking yourself some questions: 

  • What do you need to achieve? 
  • What do you want to achieve? 
  • When must you achieve in terms of soft and hard skills? 
  • Have you assessed your own emotional intelligence and worked on it?

Emotional Intelligence assessments are easy to find online, quick to do, affordable and might change your chances of success substantially for the better.  

EI/EQ doesn’t mean giving too much of yourself. It is the awareness of how you react to others and how you see co-workers as feeling and thinking people. Effective leaders allow themselves to be emotional privately. They process it, then come back and give the public their best selves, communicating constructively and listening more than talking. You can be the tough empathy leader who bring that sweet spot to the team.

  1. Dr. Jeanne Segal, Melinda Smith, Lawrence Robinson & Jennifer Shubin, “Improving Emotional Intelligence (EQ),” HelpGuide.org. Santa Monica, CA: HelpGuideOrg Int’l, 2021, accessed 2 June 2022 
  2. “Empathy,” Dictionary.com, accessed 2 June 2022.
Jill Bausch
Jill Bausch

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