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If Your Feedback Zone is Empathizer…

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

If you value positive feelings over objective facts when giving feedback, you live in the “Empathizer” feedback zone.

The good news is that you are a born developer of people. You encourage people and recognize their talents. However, at times the focus on positive qualities can distract from the need to provide constructive feedback that will help your team members stretch beyond what they thought they were capable of achieving.

Feedback from an Empathizer feels good

Empathizers relate well to even the most difficult-to-reach people. They are skilled at listening to each person attentively and understanding why they feel the way they do—about their job, their daily ups and downs, their career aspirations, and even the family pressures and conflicts they are experiencing. Empathizers are approachable and willing to offer a sympathetic ear when a direct report encounters any kind of a problem—even when the employee is not accomplishing what is expected of them in their role.

If the Empathizer’s approach to feedback could be characterized in a single tag line, it would be a quotation from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: “I like you just the way you are.” Empathizers are affirming and help people see the value that they bring to the job.

Locating the Empathizer’s pain

The Empathizer enjoys connecting for its own sake and finds it painful to risk inflicting pain on an employee by drawing attention to areas for improvement. An employee’s pain is their pain, and they don’t want to put their hand in that fire.

If you’re primarily an Empathizer, you may worry that an employee will have a painful reaction that results in lowered self-confidence and decreased self-worth. You just can’t bring yourself to go there. While leaders in other zones don’t usually worry about such a strong reaction from employees, it’s a vivid possibility for the Empathizer.

Empathizers are also sensitive to the fact that they themselves have flaws that employees must put up with, and they are grateful to their employees for this tolerance. In the Empathizer’s worldview, the leader and employee have a kind of unwritten contract in which they accept one another’s strengths and weaknesses and make the best of them. The Empathizer may believe that pointing out the employee’s weak spots will result in the employee pointing out theirs in return—another potential source of pain.

Risks for Empathizer's approach to feedback:

  1. People may not be challenged to improve or develop beyond their current capabilities.

  2. Group results can suffer due to the poor performance of some team members.

  3. High performers can feel discouraged because poor performance is tolerated, leading to the attrition of high performers.

  4. Fast-track, highly motivated employees can become bored or impatient with the lack of development and look elsewhere for a role with a boss who challenges them.

  5. Everyone in the group gets comfortable with lower standards and stops striving to improve.

Beliefs worth challenging if you are an Empathizer

To avoid the risks of the Empathizer belief zone, it’s necessary to become aware of how your beliefs may be stunting the growth of employees who are clamoring to learn and grow. Then be willing to shift any behavior that no longer serves you as a leader. See each of your direct reports as strong and capable of learning. See each employee as deserving to know what they can change and benefit from, rather than seeing them as stuck in a no-growth world in which they are wondering what they could do better.

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