Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.
― Dean Koontz
This quote by Dean Koontz speaks to me deeply. I do not hold a PhD in Neuroscience nor am I an acclaimed author on Emotional Intelligence. Nonetheless, the one emotion that has always made me an effective leader is Empathy. In fact, if you keep up at all with Gallup Strengthsfinder assessment, my #1 strength is Empathy. This fact has helped me be a better mother, wife, friend and leader of teams.
Do I use this emotion 100% of the time? Not exactly. (The thought leaves me a little exhausted.)
Do I see this emotion as the #1 emotion that leaders should extract from themselves and use more often? Absolutely.
Does everyone have the ability to call upon this emotion, when necessary? The experts say so.
According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathize wired into their brains - an in-built capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.-BBC.com, June 29, 2015
This is an amazing finding as research used to point to the opposite: people could not be taught to call upon empathy that was latent in their brains.
So, what can you do to increase your ability to empathize with others?
1. Focus on truly listening
I find that listening solves most any issue. When I am with my family, friends, co-workers, and customers, I make myself actively listen to them. I am not perfect all of the time, but I truly have an interest in knowing what is important to them and how I can help them get where they want to go.
If this does not come natural to you, clear away as many distractions as possible and repeat back to them in a formal or informal way what they told you. It will touch them to know you actually listen and care. Don't fake this. They will know anyway.
2. Pay close attention to the details
When I say details, I mean details. What do their eyes say? Did you know that eyes can talk? They certainly do. That old cliche', "The eyes are the windows of the soul" has a lot of merit. If you want to know more about this, I'd be happy to chat about this.
3. Bury yourself in the environment
There is no better way to know the emotions and feelings of others than to spend some time in their world. In the research world, this goes beyond focus groups and extends to shadowing someone in their natural environment, or even following them over a long period of time to confirm behaviors are sustained. If you sell a consumer good, you could ask to get access to their world by having them video tape themselves when using the product and much more. Many even live with consumers to get a good picture of what it is like to be the customer.
The sky is the limit. Get as close as they will let you!
In the end, empathy provides leaders a phenomenal gift that creates real connections between people in their work and home lives. The next time you think to ignore the person who appears upset in the grocery store, or lash out at an employee whose performance is not up to your standards, Pause. Remember to spend some time in their shoes-whether literally or via their stories. What are some of ways you think empathy makes people better leaders of organizations, communities and families?
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