Compassionate Leadership in Times of Corona: Receiving Empathetically

Priyanka Sharma

- October 19, 2020

You are responsible for managing 10 people in your team. Since everyone is working from home you have noticed that one employee Mina is consistently missing deadlines. She has already asked for extension on two projects that have reduced good will with the customer considerably. You want to know how best to deal with Mina so that the team performance does not get affected. You also realise that the Corona situation has brought on added challenges. Does this situation sound familiar to you?

A big part of compassionate leadership is listening emphatically. Listening is an undervalued skill especially amongst leaders.  This can be very harmful to business and employee engagement. Managers who love to speak more than listen are often losing valuable opportunities to connect with their employees in meaningful ways and solve problems in a manner that meets everyone’s needs. In a study conducted by American Management Association, it was found that 59% of the people surveyed did not feel that they were listened to and that management did not care about their concerns. This is an extremely troubling statistic. Especially in these times where the Corona pandemic has placed added stress on our psychological resources to deal with stress. 

Another study conducted by Gallup shows that employees are more engaged when they feel cared for and listened to. As managers we understand how important this is. However, the pressures of conducting business in a competitive environment means that you also have to ensure employees perform and meet deadlines. 

Being an empathetic listener does not mean that you agree with everything everyone is saying. Empathetic listeners are primarily listening to understand. Often, we listen only to come up with a retort, or we are not listening at all, because we are lost in our own inner world. Often people speak in ways that we find hurtful like criticism and we find it hard to stay present to that. Like any other skill, listening is an art that needs to be polished and worked on. 

In this article we will introduce you to Non-Violent Communication, a way of communicating from the heart, that will allow you to become a better listener. This way of communicating from the heart is called non-violent or compassionate communication. It was taught by Marshall Rosenberg, whose goal was to teach people to communicate in a manner that helps them to get their needs met , while keeping their connection with other people alive.

4 Steps to listening or receiving empathetically with Non-Violent Communication 

Let us get back to the situation with Mina. Contemplate on that situation for a bit. Maybe you have a Mina that you need to manage in your organisation. Think about a recent interaction you had with this employee.

Step 1 -Observation: Simply observe from an objective viewpoint what happened in that interaction. What did Mina say and do? What did you say and do? Do not use any evaluations or judgements here.

Example:  Mina told me that she would need a week’s extension on the deadline because her child was sick. This is way past the deadline the customer had given us. I told Mina that she could have the extension. 

Step 2 -Feelings:  In this step we try to guess the other person’s feelings, by imagining ourselves in the same situation or by listening carefully to their words and actions and looking for the feelings that they might be expressing. In NVC the definition of feelings is slightly different from our normal understanding of feelings. In order to understand feelings you can refer to the list of feelings here. Feelings which we would normally use that point at blame towards others are not considered feelings in NVC. An example of this would be “I feel abandoned”.  Expressing feelings in this manner is not encouraged in NVC because, this makes us point fingers at someone. Refer to the feelings inventory and identify what feelings might Mina be feeling as a result of this interaction. Most positive feelings such as proud, thankful, warm, delighted are usually the result of needs that are being met. When our needs are not met, we have feelings such as agony, furious, depressed etc.

Example: Mina might be feeling overwhelmed and tired. She might be feeling embarrassed to ask for the extension and letting her team members down. She might also be feeling guilty and fearful for her job.

Step 3 – Needs:   In this step we try to guess and identify what needs of the other person are either being met or not being met by this interaction.  Within NVC we identify needs as a basic universal need that are common to all humanity irrespective of our difference. You can refer to the NVC needs list here. According to Marshall Rosenberg , every negative feeling such as anger, frustration are very valuable to us. This is because they point us to the fact that there is an especially important need of ours, that is not being met within that interaction or circumstance. Every positive feeling like joy, happiness etc. point to a need that is being met. 

Example: Mina might be needing support, safety, rest, and rejuvenation.

Step 4- Requests:  Here we make a concrete request to the person that we are interacting with.  When speaking to the other person we cannot assume that what we have guessed about their feelings and needs is right and hence we request them to let us know what they are feeling and needing.

Example: Boss expressing honestly “Mina when you come to me at the last minute and ask for an extension for a project that has already been delayed 3 times, it makes me feel anxious because I am responsible for retaining customers. It also makes me angry and frustrated because I have a need for efficiency in my department. Would you be willing to share your ideas about how we can solve this problem so that it never happens again?

Mina: I am doing my best but due to the Corona situation I have extra family pressures, I feel exhausted. I do not know how I can manage anymore.

Boss: I hear that you are feeling very exhausted and you are needing some rest. Did I hear you correctly?

Mina: More than rest, I need support.

Boss:  I hear you need more support. How can I make sure that we get that support to you?

Mina: I can arrange for someone to look after my boys in the afternoon. Is it possible for you to allow me to work from 12 pm to 8 pm?

Boss:  I will have to shuffle things around, but I think that can be managed until the Corona situation tides over.

Mina: Thank you! I am really grateful.

Here in this interaction with the help of non-violent communication and pure empathetic listening by focusing on the needs and feelings of the other person we were able to find a solution that met the needs of both the parties involved. Listening to someone does not mean that you have to give up on your own needs. Listening allows us to understand the other person so that we all can make our lives more wonderful. As you practise this more often you will realise that NVC is much more than a communication tool. It is a change in awareness and mind-set that makes us more compassionate not only to our own self but also to others.

To learn more about Non-Violent Communication please contact the CNVC center (c) 2005 by Center for Nonviolent Communication Website: Email: cnvc@cnvc.orgPhone: +1.505-244-4041

About Serein

Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build safer work cultures and sexual harassment (POSH) trainings either in person or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH training in India and the US).

Our content is designed to enhance the conversation on diversity, inclusion, unconscious bias, emotional and mental wellbeing and role of empathy in the workplace. To know more about how can you initiate a conversation on D&I and implement diversity and inclusion trainings in India, awareness programs and consultation do reach out to us at

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