October 18, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Saeed
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” ~ Steven Covey
I saw a sign once that said “Everything starts with an ‘E’.
True, I thought, ‘everything’ starts with an ‘e’ but empathy starts with ‘u’ – (you).
In 1995, Daniel Goleman, argued the merits of social and emotional intelligence competencies like self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy and their capacity to add value to many domains of life, from workplace effectiveness and leadership to health and relationships
In a recent article, Goleman defines empathy as ‘having the ability to sense others’ feelings and how they see things’ and the ability to take an active interest in their concerns.
When I ask my coaching clients what skills they want to work on as a leader, many identify empathy.
Why is this trait so important to leaders?
As a leader, job one is to influence others towards improvement and change. There are usually a multitude of ways to get others to change. Effective leaders are able to do advanced thinking to know which strategy will work best with which individuals. The ability to accurately predict how another person will react emotionally and behaviorally in a given set of circumstances is what empathetic leadership is all about. The better you are at this trait, the more accurate and successful you will be in figuring out the approach that will work when you want to influence others.
Research reported in Scientific American suggests that our levels of empathy – the ability to understand the feelings of others – are lower today than 30 years ago.
An increase in social isolation is one theory used to explain this finding.
The trouble is that when there is no empathy, when we don’t work to understand the needs of others, there is a significant loss of trust. This can have major implications for business where trust is essential for successful leadership and partnerships.
So what if you take a 360-degree assessment of your Emotional Intelligence Competences and find that you score low on empathy. Are you out of luck? Not at all.
While personality traits have a strong genetic component, are hard to “change” and tend to be very stable over time, every trait can be “managed.”
For example, one of my clients is very high on a trait called “Urgency”– a CEO of a successful start up – she tends to be much more impatient than most of the other people she leads. She’s always been that way, and the trait has served her well in some instances. But over the years, she has had to learn how to manage a tendency that can otherwise sabotage her leadership goals. First by becoming aware of it, and then by learning a set of mental strategies that have allowed her to be more mindful in how and when she expresses this trait.
Here’s what you need to work on if you want to be more empathetic as a leader:
1. Develop self-awareness
Self awareness – the skill of perceiving and understanding your own emotions, is the starting point. There is no way around this. You must be able to identify and understand the impact of your feelings on your thoughts and decisions. Many of us confuse thoughts to be the same as feelings. So when someone asks how do you feel about a project, you might respond, “I think we have a lot to do.” Or, we might not distinguish between related emotions, for example, between frustration and irritability or happiness and excitement. Developing this self-awareness is a fundamental step towards greater empathy.
2. Develop awareness of others
Greater understanding of others leads to a greater understanding of how to engage, respond, motivate and connect with them in such a way that you are able to advance mutual goals. This social awareness is at the heart of interpersonal effectiveness. This awareness extends itself to understanding the politics within an organization and how to navigate them and the ability to serve others. Developing awareness of others means you carefully consider what people want, and plan to communicate with them in a way that is intended to meet that need.
3. Learn to appreciate the major differences among people
One of the best examples of strong skills in empathy is people who have traveled or worked in multicultural environments. They have learned that the way they see and experience things is often different from others. People with little or no skills in empathy might have an intellectual awareness of these differences. However, until they actually experience these differences, their skills in empathy will probably remain quite limited. As Goleman says, empathetic executives are better at international assignments because ‘they can quickly pick up on the unspoken norms for behavior and the mental models of that culture.’
Goleman has identified the building blocks of emotional intelligence to be:
· Social Awareness
· Relationship Management
Great leaders understand the importance of social and emotional intelligence in an increasingly globalized, diverse and collaborative workplace. Diversity encompasses acceptance and respect while recognizing individual differences and uniqueness. Open communication plays an essential role in managing diversity as does building an awareness of social situations.
Get it wrong and you’ll be seen as uncaring and insensitive.
Get it right and you will be set up for success.
©2017 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.
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