Coach Shari: Empathy
While doing some research for an upcoming workshop, I suddenly remembered a work incident from many years ago. Picture this: I’m sitting at a meeting with my managers and discussing some drastic changes that were about to majorly impact each one of them. A few of the changes would be positive but the majority of them would be negative. Frankly, these changes were hard to swallow and I was facing an uphill battle in this room.
At the time, I was young and I was managing on pure instinct. I hadn’t read any books and I certainly didn’t have the experiences and knowledge about implementing change that I have today. However, I did have one skill that served me well in this situation— empathy.
I listened patiently to their whining and complaining. Did I agree with their complaints? Sometimes. However, I knew that wasn’t the point. I sensed that they needed to voice their feelings, fears and doubts before they could move on. I had a strategy to get them on board and I knew that forcing them to move forward without listening to their concerns would never work.
How did I know? Because I asked myself— would it work with me? How would I feel? What would I need to move on from that place and accept the changes?
First, I would need someone to validate my concerns and show understanding.
In business, we don’t all see eye to eye on developing soft skills, such as empathy. The concept just seems way too abstract to be taken seriously in the workplace. But the ability to relate to people, to understand and sense how they’re feeling, is pivotal to every leader’s influence. The ability to put yourself in other’s shoes and imagine what they’re thinking and feeling is crucial to your success as a leader.
That doesn’t mean you need to agree with everything that’s being said because…you wont. It does mean, however, that you need to be able to non-judgmentally listen, with appropriate non-verbal communication that displays an acceptance of their feelings and needs. This is how respect and trust is earned, and believe me— Influence will follow.
It doesn’t matter if you spend your days managing a team/company or trying to close deals for your growing business. Empathy, a necessary ingredient to having resilience, is key to you paving your way to your goals.
Your workdays are busy and you have a lot to accomplish. Sometimes, you can become too self-focused and stuck inside your own head, busy considering the many things that YOU need to complete. You can spend a lot of time looking inward and focusing on your own goals instead of looking outward. However, having empathy enables you, a leader, to sense the temperature of your surroundings— a necessary skill in your arsenal. Your ability to put aside your own goals for a few minutes, reach out with empathy and listen to what others need to succeed in their jobs can ultimately decide your path in life.