The Three (Well-Kept) Secrets Of Empathy
Empathizing with people, understanding their motivations and adjusting your communication accordingly are foolproof ways to expand your circle of influence; something all effective leaders strive for.
When I bring up the concept of Empathy during our Leading with Presence programs, participants tend to look confused, vexed or uncomfortable. Why? A lot of us think empathy looks like this: we sit across from a direct report who is complaining, grieving, or just needs help and we nod sympathetically and say “Hmmmm” in what we think is a sensitive way. No wonder so many of my clients hear the “E” word and say, “That’s just not me–I would be inauthentic if I tried to do that!”
The truth is that empathy can be a proactive skill. The Ariel Group classifies empathy as Reaching Out; the R skill in our PRES Model. Reaching Out is active, not passive. You can communicate, lead and problem-solve empathetically.
- Listen, and when all else fails, listen. One of the best kept secrets of leadership is that if you allow someone to say their piece, at the end they may have their own solution. As leaders we tend to jump in and interrupt because of time and because we “know the answer.” Silence and a few well-placed questions may inspire your people to solve their own problems, thereby empowering them in their own leadership journey.
- Know the communication styles of your peers, managers and direct reports and adjust your communication accordingly. That V.P. with ADD who can’t take in more than three short sentences? Line up your bullet points before you enter his office. The finance guy who wants to hear the numbers before he can hear the big picture? Adjust your presentation accordingly. The H.R. Specialist who is all about building relationships? Ask her about her kids or hobbies and listen for the answer. She’ll give you some invaluable clues about what’s important to her during that few minutes of “small talk.”
- Try naming other people’s emotions. This issue came up recently in a program with a group of consultants. One young consultant said, “I’m afraid to say to a client, ‘This situation must be difficult for you’ – what if I’m wrong?” I was co-facilitating with a wise Ariel facilitator who said, “My experience is that people will correct you if you’re wrong and they’ll appreciate that you have taken the time and energy to think about their feelings.” It’s true, your relationship with clients, peers and direct reports will deepen and their trust in you will grow, if you take a moment to acknowledge an emotional situation.
Steven Covey, in his landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about “The Circle of Influence,” the things and people around us that we have the ability to influence. Empathizing with people, understanding their motivations and adjusting your communication accordingly are foolproof ways to expand your circle of influence; something all effective leaders strive for. By incorporating the techniques of Reaching Out empathetically, you will successfully expand that circle and undoubtedly connect with some hearts and minds along the way.
Wouldn’t that feel good?