Great leaders are great listeners. But that said, true listening doesn’t come through the eye-gate or ear-gate alone, it means also comes through your heart. One survey of 600 employees reported by found that 58% of those employees felt their managers lacked empathy toward them.

We read a lot about good listening, including eye-to-eye contact or body language, but not a lot is written about good “heart contact.” So what is it, and how do we improve it?

Place yourself in the team member’s home environment. You probably know enough about it to know how it affects their attitude and their work. Listening with your heart means listening to someone through their home dynamics. Are there negative dynamics? Is abusive or addictive behavior prevalent? Are there ongoing physical, emotional, or financial challenges?  What someone says may be an echo of what’s going on at home. You listen with your heart when you accept that who they are is based on where (or what) they’re coming from.

Place yourself in the team member’s work environment. Listening with your heart means not being partial to a person’s position in that environment. That’s tough, especially when a friction point is between a hard worker and a slacker, and you’re listening to the slacker! Your heart is with the hard worker, but the slacker might be a hard worker at heart who is struggling with interpersonal issues. Listen as if the worker characteristics were reversed. Listen with the intensity of a talent scout discovering hidden abilities.

Place yourself in the team member’s training environment. You may or may not have been involved in the training, but listening with your heart means accepting the fact that some problems result from incomplete training. Learn to listen without being defensive. A heart to heart conversation may reveal a brand new vista of training techniques.

Place yourself in the team member’s career environment. Are you listening to their overall hopes and dreams? Listening in “the affirmative” lets the team member know you care about them beyond the end of their shift or the completion of their project. Listening about their future lets that person know you are with them in the present. Inserting positives in the conversation helps the team member in the “Self-Image Department.”

Listening with your heart says a TON without uttering a word. It says “I care about you.” “You are important to me and to this work.” It says “I’m approachable.”

Be the leader that will rank near the top of the empathy survey!

— Stan Toler