Be a True Leader: Five Ways to Develop Your Empathy
In my last post I made a case for paying more attention to empathy in the corporate environment. Hopefully, the consensus for empathy within business is growing. But how do we get there? Here are five easy ways to cultivate empathy individually in order to start the trend at your company:
1. Get your listening ears on – OK, I’m channeling my mommy voice – but I wish we spent more time teaching our kids what this really means so we can create adults who do this organically. Listening isn’t about sitting quietly long enough for the person you’re talking with to finish what they’re saying. It’s also not about listening just enough to figure out how you want to respond. Listening well takes the same skills as mindfulness: Try to clear your mind of the internal chatter, get present and just witness what is being said. That’s it. It’s hard, but with some practice, it becomes much easier. One tip: take notes. Sometimes writing down what we’re hearing channels our ‘must do something’ energy into a practical task that will also help to drive home whatever points are being delivered.
2. When in doubt, identify with the feeling – Often times we don’t agree with our colleagues, leaders or employees. Empathy in the workplace is not about agreeing all the time, nor is it about pretending to. It’s about trying to uncover the feeling or emotion behind the person’s words and seeing yourself there. For example, when a supervisor is micromanaging, they might be feeling anxious or maybe even like they can’t afford you trust, because they can’t trust themselves. You can identify with anxiety and second-guessing yourself, right? In this case you don’t have to agree with the act or the tone of micromanaging, just try to remember what anxiety or second-guessing does to you. How do you act when you feel those things? Can you relate? From here you have an understanding that may measure your response. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t address issues like micromanaging head on. In fact, if you start that conversation with – “I can imagine that making sure this project goes off without a hitch is nerve-wracking, I know I’d feel that way…” your odds of having a productive conversation, and one that ends in your favor, are way more likely.
3. Don’t make it about you – Take the example above. Once you’ve realized your supervisor is micromanaging because of their own feelings – does it suddenly become less personal? We have a way of personalizing everything and that is natural. Empathy, however, is about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes without putting yourself into their story. You can identify with someone’s experiences and feelings without assuming you play a role in them at all. In fact, odds are, you don’t. This depersonalization allows us to address things much more head on, to take the drama out of the communication and to show up as a leader.
4. Get smart on your emotions – Self-awareness plays a huge role in cultivating empathy. It helps to identify your own emotions before trying to do it for others. This could be its own blog post, so for now we’ll keep it simple: identify how situations and conversations make you feel. Get really clear about your own feelings and motivations and then communicate them. Once you lay it out there, you take the guess work out for your colleagues and they know exactly what they’re dealing with. You also show through your own actions that talking about feelings at work isn’t taboo – it’s necessary in order to collaborate better. You will quickly be seen as someone who is high in EQ, direct and inspiring to work with.
5. Read the room – Working on empathy will open up a flow of nonverbal communication that you are going to tap into so easily it will start to feel like your superpower. As you practice both mindful listening (listening without any judgement) and learn to pick up on the emotions that are not being said, you will begin to intuitively understand what your audience is thinking and more importantly, what they need. That is what people who read the room do – they turn up their dial and tap into the energy of the room. As you do this, you can communicate with more impact and connect on a deeper level. Remember, once you pick up on these cues it is on you to tweak your talk track, adjust your tone or even call out the things that aren’t working. This level of connection will not only keep your audience with you but it makes you pretty hard to forget.