Motivating others is a topic we learned a lot in school, but we were never really taught how to do it. Let’s face it; trying to influence others to behave or act in a certain way is challenging. It’s hard enough under normal circumstances, to think about what inspires others, but when we feel like we are just barely surviving through a global pandemic, whose thinking about thriving?   The key is motivating your team with empathy. “Empathy is often seen as an essential element of leadership, as elevating the performance of others requires the ability to understand how they feel.”   

With the aftermath of COVID-19, we need to be empathetic – to appreciate and understand the incredible stress, tension and anxiety people are feeling. We need to recognize, engage, and support our employees through these challenging times. Each employee has different needs and preferences when it comes to feeling appreciated for their efforts, feeling connected to their team, and fulfilled in their roles. Therefore, leaders must flex their leadership style depending upon each employee’s needs and what motivates their people to do their best work.  

So, how do you motivate your team and stimulate positivity in your workplace? The answer: emotional intelligence. By understanding your own emotions and those of the people around you, you can have open and honest conversations, forming strong relationships based on compassion and trust. These close relationships stimulate productivity. Workplace empathy is known to drive connectivity, regulate emotions, and reduce stress.

How to Motivate Your Team With Empathy

In my last blog, Communicating Together Apart, I discussed the importance of removing the ‘one size fits all’ perspective and understanding your team’s individual needs. Leaders can create a culture where open, honest communication is the standard. Two-way conversations on what you need to feel motivated and how your leader can help support you are critical. Motivation is deeply rooted in a person’s passions, values and beliefs. Discovering what is beyond what they say and do each day (beyond the surface) is critical to understanding how to inspire them to be all they can be.

Although a challenging task, motivating through empathy is mainly in the employer’s hands.  Peter Drucker defined leadership as “lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, raising a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” You don’t want your employees to go through the motions during the week, just waiting to get to the weekend. You need to become attuned with and pay attention to your team. Leaders need to go the extra mile to make employees feel heard, seen, cared for, and respected.

Below are three tips to help in motivating your team with empathy in the workplace.

1. Listen Attentively

The first step to motivate with empathy is to listen to what your employees have to say. In the book, Co-Active Coaching, the authors explain the three levels of listening. Level 1 is an exchange where the listener’s fundamental focus is on their thoughts, opinions, judgments, and feelings. This level of listening is ideal when you have a decision to make or when we need to collect information. Level 2 involves noticing what is said, but how it is said.  It involves paying attention to the tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Steven Covey discusses this listening as habit 5 – “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In other words, listen first, then speak.   Level 3 listening involves doing everything at Level 2, plus using intuition and being open to receiving more information in any form that it presents itself. It means tuning in not only to the conversation but to the environment. 

Having one-on-one private conversations with your employees can help you understand not only how they want to be motivated but what is also holding them back. With the uncertainty of the current world, it is impossible to know what individuals are going through unless you encourage these candid conversations. 

How do you spark your teams’ interest and speak from the heart when what’s important to someone may not be necessary to another? Leaders must ask their teams coaching questions like What motivates you to do your best? How can I support you to do your best? Then listen attentively to their answers, and act on their feedback.  

2. Be Flexible

Everyone has a different struggle, whether it’s childcare, helping elderly parents, illness, financial issues, remote work, or mental wellness. Leaders don’t need to dive into the intimate details of each of their team’s personal lives, but offering a flexible work arrangement allows people the autonomy to structure their day in the most productive way for them.   

In Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, argues that human motivation is mainly intrinsic and that the aspects of this kind of motivation can be divided into autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  Autonomy gives people the freedom to do their work in a way that works best for them.  

Allow employees to take the morning off to homeschool, or provide resources to help with mental or physical health needs. Empathy doesn’t mean you have to pry into the personal challenges of each member of your team. It means being adaptable that each person has a different set of circumstances and trusting your people to direct you on how best to support their needs.  

Remember, you can be fair to your entire team, but fairness may look different for every employee. For instance, working from home for some could look like starting at 7 am and finishing at 3 pm. For others, it could look like starting at 10 am (after they drop off the kids at daycare) and working until 6 pm. For others, they may need several breaks throughout the day to accommodate caring for their elderly parents. The key here is flexible working arrangements for your entire team, whenever possible. 

3. Show Your Passion

Leaders have to inspire people to make positive and productive choices every day. Your employees are looking to you for emotional fuel to ignite the spark in them. The best way to inspire others is to share your passion but to do so with empathy.  

Empathy is speaking in a way that shares what is essential to the listener. Think and act in what would interest others. How can you communicate your passion for the company and its goals in a way that is important to them?

Stories don’t just help people feel like they belong to something; they motivate people — because they subtly communicate why people’s actions will have meaning and value. Speaking from the heart can be contagious. Displaying how engaged and passionate you are, instead of attempting to force enthusiasm out of them, is what can move mountains.

Everyone has motivational energy. Modelling the way and showing how you engage with your work in a way that furthers your goals can be inspiring to your team. Your overall goal should be to develop a compassionate and helpful workplace atmosphere where all employees are driven to thrive.

The Bottom Line

Implementing empathy in your leadership tactics will benefit your team’s productivity, happiness and the bottom line. People who feel connected and committed to the organization are more likely to put in the extra effort to produce better quality work. Plus, by providing your team with the tools to take care of their personal lives better, they have more time to focus on work. 

Take Google, for example, who won the Best Company Culture Award. They have taken into account all of their employees’ needs within the office: doggy daycare, massages, free food, etc. The end product? Employees feel heard, taken care of, and, most importantly, don’t even need to leave the office! 

By choosing to motivate with empathy, you create a better culture, productivity, and healthier bottom line.

If you are interested in more, check out our Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace or Influential Leadership keynotes, which both come in live or virtual delivery formats. Get a jump start in motivating with empathy through our many emotional intelligence leadership programs!

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