Empathy is emotional intelligence and helps someone understand the emotions and feelings of another. Hiring managers and leaders with empathy and emotional intelligence benefits your productivity and your profit. Imagine going to work and feeling unheard, unvalued, unguided, and overworked. You try to say something to your manager, but they don’t have time to listen or they’re trying to find a solution to the problem before they even finish hearing you speak. You want to try something new, but you’re told time and again that now isn’t the time to move forward on that idea. This scenario is often the experience at work. You’re listened to but you aren’t heard.
Now, imagine that your manager or team leader knows how you feel without you having to say anything. They approach you to talk about the very subject that you were concerned about. They want to hear your new ideas and they help you to figure out how to implement it and they advocate for you so that others will listen to your ideas. Your manager can hear in your voice that something is off and asks you about it and want to know that you are doing good.
Who would you rather work for? And who are you going to work harder for? Empathy can build a team based on trust and honesty. Conversations open up and win/wins are created for the team and for the company. Innovation happens because people are excited to be part of a team that is open to trying new things.
Accessing your empathy
What is empathy and how do you access it? Everything is consciousness and consciousness is energy. Energy communicates in waves or pulses or inner knowing. How you uniquely process energy will help you know how to properly “listen”. When you talk to someone, do you feel things in your body? Maybe you feel someone’s energy as a contraction in your body when talking to them. If you feel that contraction, look at your employee or listen for more clues. Are they answering you with short responses and/or does their body language suggest that they are upset (are their arms crossed and their body is pulled away from you)? These are signs that they are upset, and this is a great opportunity for you to say something like, “Hey John, I’m noticing that you’re upset. Can we talk about it?” Hopefully you have a great conversation that allows your employee to feel heard and valued. It also helps if you can notice when the shift in body language happened so you can pinpoint the conversation. For example, if you’re talking about a specific work item and you feel the shift in their energy, you can start your conversation with something like, “I noticed that when we were talking about the work item today in the meeting, that you seemed a little upset. Can we talk about it?”
Some people also process information auditorily. You can pick up on subtle clues from the inflexion of their voice. You may notice that their voice is less perky or happy than it normally is. You could say something like, “Hey, I’m noticing that your voice is a little off. How are you feeling today? How’s your stress level? Anything that I can help you with?” If you have an inner knowing, you may know, without having any clue how you know, that someone is upset, stressed, distracted. Again, start the conversation with what you’re noticing. Even if the employee isn’t ready to talk or your first few conversations don’t go smoothly, they will remember that you noticed something about them without them having to bring it to your attention.
The Key is Listening
The key to it all is really listening, which means not being distracted. Put down the phone and the email that just came through. Listen to what the people around you are saying and how you are feeling as they speak. Notice to what they aren’t saying with their words. Listen to their energy, their body language, and their tones and inflections. And then be willing to have the deeper conversations with your employees. You can also use this key with your family to create shifts at home. Practice listening without being distracted by anything else.
When I was a team lead and manager in corporate, I used my natural empathy skills to help me build a great team. One of my favorite experiences was with one of the people on my team. I would notice when things were off and would approach him to walk and talk about what he was feeling. Then, one day during our weekly meeting, I was distracted and dealing with a problem that came up, so my attention was split between running the meeting and figuring out the issue. At the end of our call, he approached me and said, “I know you already know that I’m upset [I didn’t know because I was distracted]. Can we go for a walk and talk? [Yes].” That was the day that I realized the power of building a team based on empathetic leadership. Our team was strong, and everyone helped each other the best that they could. We worked from our strengths and I helped my team reach for their goals. Individually and as a team, we achieved a lot and changed the way that we worked. Everyone has moved on to accomplish even more. Empathy builds trust, open communication, teamwork, and a solid foundation that opens everyone to innovation and learning new things without being afraid of failure. Empathy fosters a growth mindset.
Start removing the distractions and really focus on your team. Listen to what is being said and how it is being said. Notice each person as individuals and as part of the team. Get to know what their hopes and dreams are and help them to take daily action to move them in that direction. You’ll be surprised at what you receive in return. And make sure that you are taking these actions authentically and not to manipulate your team.
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