“Replacing rudeness and impatience with the Golden Rule may not change the world, but it will change your world and your relationships.” Steve Shallenberger, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders
This summer has been dedicated to reading and self-enrichment. I’ve already devoured several good books including Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence (Daniel Goleman) and Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves). Key ideas that resonate from these titles include genuine happiness, leadership, and life and work success.
While each author lays out a different strategy for accomplishing these goals, two common themes that are repeated again and again in each book are the ability to master one’s emotions and the importance of having empathy for others. Goleman writes in Focus that the trifecta of strong leaders is high self-awareness, empathy and understanding, and the ability to motivate and inspire others.
Many people view empathy as a weakness. It is, however, a very powerful emotion. Psychology Today defines empathy as the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling. Empathy is known to increase prosocial (helping) behaviors.
Bradberry and Greaves make the empathic connection by pairing up personal and social competencies. Personal competence is more about you and is made up of self-awareness and self-management skills. Social competence is your ability to understand the moods, behaviors, and motives of others to improve the quality of your relationship with them. Social competence includes social awareness and relationship management skills.
One recommended strategy for improving your social competence skills is to step into the shoes of another. This will allow you to gain perspective and a deeper understanding of someone else, improve your communications with that person(s), and identify problems before they escalate.
Similarly, under relationship management strategies, two skills that would be helpful when working with others are acknowledging the person’s emotions or situation, and when you care, show it.
How does this relate to business and STEM?
First, our lives are all too often void of common and professional courtesies. Please and thank you, should be treated like intangible assets. They can create great value in the workplace and in relationships. These intangible assets often open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
There will be many areas where empathy is needed, however, one that must be mentioned is the loss of a loved one. Death and dying are two words that can strike fear in some people in a similar manner as speaking in public. When the topic of death comes up in the work place, some employees become very robotic and disengage from the conversation.
A few years ago, I attended a region meeting that was hosted by a professional organization. About two months before this meeting, one of the members experienced the loss of a child. While she seemed to be present during the meeting, her eyes showed that her thoughts were miles and miles away.
For a mid-morning activity, we were given instructions to find a partner or two to work with. I thought this might be a good time to engage her. I had sent a sympathy card to her earlier, however, I still wanted to personally speak with her face-to-face and find out how she was doing. She thanked me for doing so, however, it was obvious to me that she was still struggling with her emotions and feelings.
I suggested that we skip this particular exercise and just talk about what she was feeling at that moment. She thanked me and we did. She also shared with me that I was the only one who had said anything to her about the death of her loved one since she arrived the day before. Regrettably, some members appeared to go out of their way to avoid making eye contact or speaking to her.
What would you want that person to do if the table was turned and you were the one dealing with hurt and pain? Caring about someone else is not just limited to friends and families.
As a reminder, lacking empathy is a key descriptor of BAITERs (backstabbers, abusers, imposters, takers, exploiters, and reckless), a term coined by Dr. Phil McGraw in his book, Life Code. A BAITER has no regard for you or understands your feelings. It never occurs to them how you might be hurting or suffering because of what they did. In addition they don’t appreciate any point of view that is different from their own.
Successful leaders are empathic and show genuine concern for others. Practicing empathy provides a greater connection to the people around you and those you interface with. It enhances communication with others and helps you better understand the needs of those you work with.
Last but not least, practicing empathy will make you a better leader, follower, and friend.