After spending one month examining our own self-deception great leaders develop a competence in infusing everyday conversations with empathy. It builds trust and leaves people feeling understood and cared for. People are still held accountable to meet their expectations but now it is done with care and consideration.
It is not uncommon to find that most of us have an empathy deficit – or at least we do not express it enough in everyday conversations – whether with friends, family or coworkers. It is all too easy to get focused on our own ‘to do’ lists and priorities that we are insensitive to others needs.
Everyone wants to be seen, heard and appreciated. But not that many people—especially in workplaces—know how to communicate empathy so that others feel seen, heard and appreciated. There is often discomfort around where the personal and professional boundaries are.
Most of us are too focused on conveying our own messages grounded in our self-deceptive images of ourselves.
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.”
— Psychologist Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2007)
Empathy involves being able to stand in another’s shoes and understand their thoughts, feelings, pain and perspective — gaining true awareness by asking questions and actively listening. Empathy can be misunderstood as having warm feelings for all of humanity as we strive for peace on Earth. It is not about “warm and fuzzy” feelings for someone else (although that may happen).
Relationships are built on empathy. Unfortunately, many people erroneously assume they are empathic. Poorly expressed or absent empathy leads to misunderstandings, lack of trust and uncooperative or resistant friends, family and/or colleagues.
Superficial connections with colleagues are accepted as the norm. We let the habit of superficiality slip into our relationships and sometimes use humor as a handy substitute for getting to know and understand each other. It is a way we keep from being vulnerable with others.
The lack of expressing empathy can have wide-reaching consequences. No one intends to keep others at a distance, but that is what happens when we are not conscious and present to others’ emotions. Perhaps we are afraid of coming across as overly touchy-feely or do not know what to say or do so we go to the other extreme: relying on logic and minimizing our feelings or ignoring our feelings all together. Neither extreme benefits our relationships or connectedness with others.
Communication is never a one-way street. While people want to hear what you have to say, they are more interested in knowing that you understand and care about them. Theodore Roosevelt said it well:
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
Empathy is at the heart of authentic connections, allowing us to build trust and influence. It requires more than just seeing and feeling. It requires setting aside our agenda and stepping into another’s shoes and communicating that.
Empathy is a part of your EQ and as part of learning to be conversationally intelligent. Just like verbal and mathematical abilities, you can improve your empathy skills. It is an area we discuss and work on in coaching sessions when building leadership capacity.