What’s on Our Minds: Empathy is not Coddling

In our workplaces, to build resilience, empathy has an important role. Adapting to, persevering through, and learning from adversity leverages trusted relationships as a support system—it’s important to lean on others when things are particularly hard. As leaders we strive to have an open-door policy where others can come to us and speak freely about what’s on their minds—and in their hearts. It’s important to lean in on empathy in these moments and times of need. But we also know that information that is shared goes beyond the single conversation—what we learn about how people are doing can also clue us in to how to manage our expectations of their performance.

Why it Matters

How we like to think about it is that we can be empathetic—fully engaged with each other and seek each others experiences and perspective—but also without coddling. We think of coddling as allowing a specific individual perspective or experience to define and infiltrate every aspect of how we engage with them. When people share crises—we respond by listening, respecting, and providing them with the space to address their needs. As leaders, when we coddle —we have overstepped our own boundaries by assuming an overprotective stance, consistently drawing attention to and allowing attention to remain focused on the problem, losing sight of our expectations of accountability to ourselves, to our employee, and our employee’s accountability to others.

Something to Think About

Empathy is not caring and perspective taking at all costs and at the detriment to all initiatives—even though we can sometimes feel a pressure as leaders to let things slide indefinitely. The guiding rule should be to know when to give people the benefit of the doubt and give a pass in a rough patch versus kowtowing to a persistent issue.

Many organizations have policies and procedures in place to assist leaders in helping employees manage through crises and difficult times and transitions. But keeping an empathetic approach—an earnest attempt at understanding and walking in other peoples’ shoes—as a core value to an organization will increase the likelihood that we can help each other successfully maneuver between our experiences of hardship and expectation of delivering on obligations over the long run.