Today I read a story about the importance of empathy and why it is important that managers inject empathy into their business. It is also called ‘the hottest trend in leadership’. It always makes me laugh a little bit: to me it is the same as advocating the importance of exercising if you want to improve your health. Everyone knows it yet not everyone does it.


Same applies to empathy, an ideal manager is able to demonstrate cognitive empathy – the ability to place yourself into someone else’s place and see their perspective, emotional empathy – being able to feel the other person’s emotions alongside them as if you had ‘caught’ the emotions and compassionate empathy – feeling someone else’s pain and taking action to help.

Brilliant jerks

Yet, in business there are still many managers who act as brilliant jerks, express zero emotional intelligence and lack any of the above. For instance, they climbed the ladder within the company because they master the technical skills and were as a result put into a managerial position or inherited the business from a family member.

Dealing with these managers can be very frustrating, especially when you are a sensitive and caring person. How do you deal with such a manager? There is not a simple answer to this question as each situation and how it affects you personally can determine your actions.


You might decide to ignore the behavior. In this case, try to avoid taking their anger or judgments personally. Remind yourself it is not about you, your manager is simply not able to connect with someone emotionally. As a result, don’t try to make your manager understand your feelings, instead talk about facts. It also helps to find people in the office who you trust and are able to share your feelings with.


If you are unable to tolerate this kind of behavior and you are in a position that you don’t enjoy your job anyway and can easily find a better one, then take the easy road and run. Many people often think of this as it might seem the easiest thing to do. However, properly think of all the consequences when you quit: impact on your salary, contract duration, network built up with the current company, ability to actually get a similar (or better) position with the new company, etcetera. Also, ask yourself if this has already happened to you before in the past and whether you are in fact afraid of confrontation.


Confront your manager: quite often the most difficult choice for many people, as it requires you to have a courageous conversation. Before you engage in a difficult conversation, it is important that you prepare it, as the conversation will get easier then. Therefore, allow yourself and your manager to prepare for this difficult conversation. Instead of ‘unloading’ on the other, blaming and judging, share and own your experience, express your interests while staying respectful. Then, build up your conversation by sharing the story of what you observed, how this made you feel, what you need or value that causes your feelings and why it matters to you and then engage in a solution focused dialog. Sometimes it helps to have an impartial person, for instance HR, a trainer or coach manage the conversation.

The conversation will always give you new insights: it might be the start of a whole new relationship with your manager or it might require you find a way to ignore the situation or a way to escape it.

Courageous conversations

Heemskerk academy is specialized in helping executives, professionals and entrepreneurs deal with courageous conversations. Difficult conversations often emerge from conflict and therefore require good techniques to prepare. Participants receive practical tips for an effective courageous conversation and prepare themselves for the most important conversation they need to have.

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