Six ways to be a more empathic manager

Regardless of the source of your employee’s tears, it’s important to try to understand what happened

People don’t always reveal the challenges they’re facing outside work. The person who started to cry at the office might just have just been diagnosed with an illness. Or maybe he or she was trying to absorb some other personal setback. Regardless of the source of your employee’s tears, it’s important to try to understand what happened. Here’s how.

1. Listen. Find a safe but private place, such as an unoccupied conference room or office where you can speak quietly. Ask him or her what happened and listen to the reply. It may take a while for them to formulate just what they’re feeling, so be patient.

2. Be empathic and willing to learn. Even if you don’t fully understand why your colleague would be upset over whatever it was that triggered the tears, your openness to consider the other’s feelings will help you work with that person more effectively and may help you to become a better manager in general.

3. Offer an apology if it’s appropriate. If your behavior was sub-par or could be viewed that way, let it be known that you regret your words or actions and the impact that they had on your employee.


4. Help them save face. If you were the source of the problem and the incident was viewed by others, and if your employee agrees to it, you can make a public apology and request that people let you know if you’re ever again keeping them on edge.

5. Take note if this employee is particularly sensitive by nature or going through a difficult time. Then, be specific about your objectives for her and strive to catch her doing something right. That effort is always a key element in keeping people motivated, instead of hopeless, through challenging times.

6. Look at the big picture. If you realise that you need to listen more, create new means to express your faith in your employees or change the organizational culture, start working on it. Demonstrate to your team that this is a workplace where no one needs to shed tears, ever.

© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp