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3 ways to demonstrate empathy as a leader to your staff and customers

By Devan Moonsamy

by Media Xpose

In our workplace there are a spectrum of people. The people who work for us come from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, cultures, religions etc. Besides where people come from, there might be others who work with us that come with more differences than others. 

For example, our call centre agents might come from a different country in which there is ongoing conflict or our cleaner might be disorientated due to devastating news of a death of a loved one in a different region. This means that everyone has an ongoing issue that we know nothing about. It is for this reason that we need to practise empathy as a leader. 

So often during our customer service training, we embark on lessons to demonstrate understanding and the ability to show empathy to customers. This becomes a fundamental skill when assisting customers. For example, if an agent is on the phone with a customer who just had an accident or has lost a loved one, they will need to demonstrate empathy and extreme sensitivity when speaking out to the customer. It is important for us to maintain the correct tone and mannerism when speaking especially in the time of crisis. 

Now, if this is necessary for our agents towards customers, then it must be made necessary for management as well. How often do we ignore the view a staff member telling us that they are unwell or their child is unwell as a liability in the workplace? Our reaction to their time of crisis is what shapes the working relationship between us and them. 

As a manager and a leader, it is crucial to manage staff and customer relations with empathy. We need to be more present and participating in our staff’s well-being. Showing interest in their issues will only help us build a good and strong working bond with them. 

Here are 3 ways to help leaders showcase empathy and understanding when assisting staff with their personal issues 

– Start by showing interest and being present in the conversation being held. When your staff or clients are engaging with you, actively listen. Respond and participate in the conversation. Demonstrate your ability to see what they are going through. At the same time try to avoid multitasking. If you are on the phone with the customer or even if they are face to face, they will pick up on your lack of interest if you are doing other things while talking to them. It is important to engage and be present in the conversation to ensure the effective demonstration of empathy. It is also a great technique to practise with staff. Give them your undivided attention so that they may also feel valued and a priority for you as their manager. 

– Adjust your mindset. Not everyone will have the same issues. We all come from different walks of life. Ideally we do not all have the same issues. It is important to remember that when it comes to managing the workplace, we should be open to learning and understanding the different cultures or background of our staff. If a staff member needs to pray on a Friday we can learn more about that. Likewise if a staff member is in need of time to seek spiritual guidance from their elders and they are taking leave, sit them down and learn more about it. This will allow us to expand our knowledge and aid in the process of better understanding the employee’s cultures and needs within the organisation. This will open more channels for diversity and communication to your team. 

– Try to remain open and flexible. When we are able to work a schedule that works for your staff, you are winning over their commitment to their role in the business. By remaining open to their needs and being able to allow the work from home or even time off to managing personal issues, it can help build their development and dedication to the organisation. If a team member has a crisis and has to rush off, pop them a follow up text to see if everything is alright on their side. If they say they will catch up the hours at home, be open to this. 

One of the reasons that the workplace sees large staff turnover is due to the lack of empathy and care shown by management. Having a mindset that staff members are not robots, but human beings with emotions and families will allow us to be better in our leadership. Embarking on leadership training and having constant upskilling is key to transform the way managers lead in the workplace. 

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African Corporate Training Provider & National Learning Institute. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute. He has also graduated with his Bachelor of Applied Social Science (Majoring in Psychology and Counselling) Practice/Registration Number: CO30161 – Devan is a CCSA Registered Counsellor, Executive Coach and Psychological Safety Wellness Consultant.

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.


ICHAF Institutes training manuals on conflict management

ICHAF Institutes training manuals on communication

ICHAF Institutes training manuals on customer service.



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