Leaders with poor people skills often find themselves in the middle of unnecessary conflict. This can be exhausting and stressful for all concerned, and it can destroy even the best of work environments. Many people are confident that they can develop new technical skills and knowledge through training and experience. However, there’s a common belief that “you are who you are” when it comes to people skills – or “soft” skills – and that there’s little or nothing you can do to change these. Fortunately, this is far from true. And a great place to start improving soft skills is by developing the ability to empathize with others.
Empathy is simply recognizing emotions in others, and being able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” – understanding the other person’s perspective and reality. To be empathetic, you have to think beyond yourself and your own concerns. Once you see beyond your own world, you’ll realize that there’s so much to discover and appreciate! People who are accused of being egotistical and selfish, have often missed the big picture of who they are in relation to those around them. If you’ve been called any of these things, then remind yourself that the world is full of other people, and you can’t escape their influence on your life. It’s far better to accept this, and to decide to build relationships and understanding, rather than try to stand alone all of the time.
How to use empathy more effectively:
- Step aside from your thoughts long enough to see things from the other person’s point of view. It is important for us to value other people and their opinions. As Leaders we must live diversity if we expect to have a well-rounded life or office. If we honestly stop and think for a few moments about our work life, even though fellow workers might mess up things occasionally, where would we be without them. As much as we might think, we cannot go it alone!
- Validate the other person. Once you better understand why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Remember: acknowledgement does not always equal agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions, but it does not mean you have to agree with them. Validation simply means you recognize the different perspective and you let them know it is appreciated.
- Open your mind and attitude.Empathy requires an open mind and a welcoming attitude. What are you more concerned with getting your way, showing your “intelligence”, winning, or being right? A true Leader’s focus should be about finding solutions, building relationships, and accepting others? Without an open mind and attitude, you won’t have room for empathy in your life, nor will you value the enormous worth!
- Listen with many senses. Listen to the entire message that the other person is trying to communicate and pay attention to them when they are sharing with you.
- Listen with your ears – try and relate to the content and not form judgments?
- Listen with your eyes – much can be “heard” when being attentive to their body language?
- Listen with your instincts – do you sense their might be more to the story that they might be leaving out?
- Listen with your heart – is the person emotionally attached to the issue and if so, why?
- Seek explanation and input from the other person.Where lack of clarity exists, ask the person to explain his or her position. This is probably the simplest, and most direct, way of understanding another person. Often, this is the least used way to develop empathy. Too many times Leaders feel like they have to be the one with all of the answers. They have to come up with all of the ideas. When in reality, you foster buy-in by allowing the other person or people in the office to participate in solutions. Remember, it’s fine if you ask what the other person wants: you don’t earn any “bonus points” for figuring it out on your own.
When you begin to implement these skills as you interact with people you will see your Leadership influence rise greatly. You will appear much more caring and approachable as you increase your interest in what others think, feel, and experience. The value of being willing and able to see the world from a variety of perspectives is impossible to put a price tag on! The really amazing part about this Leadership tool is anyone can develop it with time and focus!