"When people go to work, they shouldn't have to leave their hearts at home."-- Betty Bender
Throughout my career in training I have fought the cause for bringing more heart and feeling into business. So often I’d hear that bringing emotions into the workplace was a sign of weakness, and being factual, logical and detached was the way to make your mark. Of course, it is all about balance, but I would argue that now more than ever is time to lead from the heart. As we all grapple for the balance between caring for our families, working from home, and staying connected with other humans despite social distancing and masks, this series on leadership will bring you research, ideas, tips and models that will prepare you not for the age of Aquarius but for the age of the heart.
Part one – Understanding Empathy
Empathy is not only one of the key skills identified as being essential for the future its also important if you want the best from the people you work with. I heard a story of a really good example of this – a woman was at work when she got a call from her mother, she immediately felt her stomach turn as her mum never phoned her at work. She asked her what was wrong, and her mum told her “they found a tumor in my brain” Her mind struggled to grasp what she heard and then she lost it and walked out of the meeting with her car keys, running towards the exit. Her boss happened to walk past her, and she told him with tears in her eyes that she had to go it was an emergency. He looked at her for 1 second and said “Got it. Take all the time you need. We’ll handle things here.” No questions asked. No explanations needed it was one of the worst days of her life and he made it easier. As employees we don’t remember the perks like, free lunches, parties and free massages, what we remember is the empathy, compassion and kindness. This has never truer than during the corona virus, this is the age of leading from the heart. So what is empathy? Take a look at the following definitions and choose the one that speaks to you 1. Knowing, understanding, or comprehending on an intellectual level someone else’s perspective. 2. Feeling physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. 3. Understand a person’s predicament and feel with them, but are spontaneously moved to help, if needed. Chances are, the one you chose is the type of empathy you feel most comfortable giving. Each of the above are correct but it does point to the fact there are 3 different types of empathy and understanding what this means and having awareness of ourselves and where we might need to work harder will help us to be more human and better leaders, colleagues, friends, parents, etc.
Cognitive empathy is definition no 1 and is the sort of empathy you might expect from your doctor or from a partner in a negotiation, cognitive empathy responds to a problem with brainpower. This can be extremely useful but could also be seen as cold and detached, and we all know how annoying it can be when people just want to solve our problems rather than really understand them.
This is all about feelings, physical sensation, and comes from mirror neurons in the brain. Just like it sounds, it involves directly feeling the emotions that another person is feeling. You’ve probably heard of the term “empath,” meaning a person with the ability to fully take on the emotional and mental state of another. The quote that comes to mind is: “I have a lot of feelings.” The other day I was listening to radio 5 live and a lovely lady from Manchester was telling her story, she was the owner of a soft play business and after just 3 weeks after reopening and spending £3000 she was being forced to close again new to tighter restrictions in the area. She was so passionate, and it was heartfelt that I found myself bursting into tears. This is a great example emotional empathy and although its what makes us human its overwhelming and not that helpful.
This is about Intellect, emotion, and action, the majority of the time, this type of empathy is ideal. Cognitive Empathy may be fitting for monetary negotiations or surgeon’s offices; Emotional Empathy may be the first response with children and for our loved ones; Compassionate Empathy strikes a powerful balance of the two. In fact, it could even be used today for one of your team working online and feeling overwhelmed stuck at home with a pandemic. Often when someone wants to show empathy they say “I understand how you feel” but it’s not true we don’t know how someone feels, we know how we feel in the same situation, but it could be very different. It’s so much better to say “I want to understand how you feel” this suggests, real listening, no judgements, compassion and support. I want to challenge you to reflect this following 3 questions?
1. Which type of empathy do you use the most? 2. When was the last time you had compassionate empathy and how did you feel? 3. What skills can you develop so you can offer compassionate empathy?
Next time we will look at core skills and give you some practical exercises to work don’t miss it!