A successful supervisor knows how to balance empathy vs performance to unlock the potential in their employees and achieve their goals.

Empathy vs Performance

If you are a basketball fan, then you have been following the Ben Simmons saga.  Ben is an all-star player with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers who has asked the team for a trade, despite having multiple years left on his max contract.  Recently, he stated that he cannot perform for the Sixers because they just did not understand him. In short, this is an Empathy vs Performance dilemma.  The employee, Ben, does not feel enough emotional support from his supervisor (i.e., the Sixers coaches and players).  As a result, he feels that his performance is suffering.  From the coach’s perspective, Ben is not living-up to his contract because he is not willing to shoot the jump shot.  The Sixers believe that he can no longer be the point guard and will need to move positions to achieve the best results for the team.


This blog article will be written from the perspective of a supervisor.  In this case, we want to discuss the value of Empathy in the workplace.  Empathy can be loosely defined as understanding the feelings of others.  This simply means that an empathetic manager recognizes the situation and feelings of his/her direct reports.  There is a distinct value to showing empathy in the workplace.  It shows that you understand and care.  From the employee’s perspective, empathy can be a positive reinforcement.

Empathy does not mean you need to agree with your employee.  However, you do need to recognize the situation and feelings being expressed.  Sometimes you can use empathy to help re-direct the future efforts.  If you truly understand what is being expressed, you can relate this to an experience from another person or situation.  Then you can relate how this situation was solved.


Once a manager has genuinely expressed empathy, the next major step is to direct the conversation towards the desired performance.  This is the art of supervision.  If you can address performance through questions, this is best way to gain acceptance from your employee.  Why?  If an employee can answer a series of questions that leads them towards the proper performance level, they will own the path, and it is more likely they will achieve the goal.

One question that comes up is should you as the supervisor tell your employee precisely how to complete the project or assignment.  This may depend on the “task maturity level” of your employee.  Some roles will require a direct level of communication.  Even if you need to be direct, it is advisable that you ask for the employee to provide there own understanding of the project.  This feedback loop makes sure there was not a miscommunication of expectations.

Summary: Empathy vs Performance

In summary, empathy can be a tool to unlock the potential in your employees.  Providing empathy is not the same as agreeing with the feelings or situation.  Using your own empathy can help put the employee at ease and on the right path towards the project goals.  A discussion around feelings is different than a straight performance discussion.  For a performance discussion, if you can engage with a question & answer dialogue on the performance goals, this may be the best means to motivate your employee towards performance.  If you have a “task maturity level” that requires a more direct approach, then make sure you create a feedback loop to ensure your expectations are met.

Now back to Ben Simmons.  Clearly, the Sixers’ coaches and players need to offer empathy even if they do not agree with Ben’s position.  The next step is to have the performance discussion.  To achieve a breakthrough, Ben must accept the new performance path he needs to travel.  It is at this communication level, where this fan believes the organization is stuck.  As a fan, my hope is that a new path can be achieved for both Ben and the Sixers.

Garrett Grega is a FocalPoint Certified Executive Coach with FocalPoint Business Coaching in Branchburg, New Jersey, where he specializes in reconnecting executives, business owners, and managers with their business passions! Garrett has his own passion for transforming high potential employees into perennial all-stars.  He has 20+ years helping international companies launch new products and processes. He previously spent 8 years launching LED lighting products for various lighting companies.  His professional experience includes: strategic planning, business development, marketing, and product development.  He can be reached at ggrega@focalpointcoaching.com.  See more at www.garrettgrega.focalpointcoaching.com.

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