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Discover the Importance of Self-Empathy

The Empathy competency enables us to interpret unspoken emotions and to understand a range of perspectives. With empathic concern, our understanding of others extends to caring deeply for them. But it is also important that we practice Empathy towards ourselves.

When we experience empathic concern or feel compassion toward others, we become the first to benefit. Empathizing with another person activates our brain’s salience network, enabling us to experience our compassion first-hand. In this way, compassion is beneficial for others as well as for our own well-being. It creates inner happiness independent of receiving compassion ourselves.

We can also practice Self-Empathy by treating ourselves with kindness. Many of us have been conditioned to be highly critical of our mistakes. We may be far tougher on ourselves than on our friends and coworkers.

Strengths in Emotional Self-Awareness can enhance our understanding of how we treat ourselves. We recommend you take a moment to reflect on these statements and also ask someone who knows you well whether they think these statements are true for you.

  • When I make a mistake, I tend to be very critical of myself.
  • When I look back, I tend to remember the mistakes I have made rather than the successes I have had.
  • I can be really heartless toward myself when I feel down or am struggling.
  • When it comes to achieving my goals, I can be really tough on myself.
  • I am driven to achieve my goals and set very high standards for myself and those around me.

If you found yourself agreeing with most of these statements, and the significant people in your life also agreed, you are not alone. Many of us were raised to believe that being brutally self-critical was necessary in order to achieve the highest standards. Indeed, you may still believe that if you aren’t hard on yourself you will become lazy, aimless, or complacent.

In some instances, practicing Self-Empathy can make it easier to expand our circle of caring and to extend compassion toward others. But if you identify as extremely self-critical, it can be helpful to begin with compassion for others. Caring for others makes it easier to love and forgive ourselves.

When we take responsibility for forgiving and caring for ourselves, the compassion we extend to others also becomes more genuine. Self-Empathy enhances our confidence and inner strength and opens us up to connection and shared purpose. This enables us to inspire others with our vision and articulate common goals.

Self-Empathy can also make it easier to forgive people in our lives. When we replace self-criticism with self-understanding and accept that as humans we will inevitably make mistakes, it becomes easier to extend this understanding to others.

Practicing empathic concern doesn’t mean that we allow others to walk all over us. Rather, we can act strongly when necessary and remain open to helping everyone, including ourselves. By combining Empathy for ourselves with Empathy for others, we can find our inner strength and make meaningful connections with people from all walks of life.

Recommended Resources:

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the twelve Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Coach & Mentor.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

Want to cultivate your Self-Empathy? Reserve your spot for the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence. During twelve, two-week online experiences, you’ll explore the Foundational Skills of Emotional Intelligence through facilitated, group learning. You’ll discover the science behind each competency, why they matter, and how to apply them to positively differentiate yourself.

For a taste of the Foundational Skills, join our two-week Emotional Balance experience. In this portion of the Foundational Skills of EI, you’ll build your resilience, self-awareness, and focus.

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Coaching for Emotional Intelligence: Wagner Denuzzo on the Future of Leadership

In the fourth installment of Coaching for Emotional Intelligence, Wagner Denuzzo, a Meta-Coach for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification discusses adaptability, global leadership, and more. Previous installments of this series include interviews with Meta-Coaches Dot Proux and Kully Jaswal and Faculty member Michelle Maldonado.

 

As Vice-President of the Leadership Talent Transformation team at IBM, Wagner engenders a growth-mindset culture and has reinvented IBM’s leadership. Prior to this role, Wagner led IBM’s Leadership and Management Development global portfolio with a focus on the IBM signature leader experience, from aspiring managers to executive leaders. Wagner has been a Leadership/Organizational Development Consultant, Executive Coach, and HR strategist for over 20 years. Prior to joining IBM, Wagner had an Executive Coaching practice in NYC serving Fortune 500 clients nationwide.

 

 

 

Let’s start with a tough one, what do you see as some of the greatest challenges facing business leaders today?

Leaders are struggling to adapt to continuous change. I was at the Aspen Institute last year with many leaders from the best business schools in the world and it was clear to me that our educational system is also struggling to keep up with the demands of a new world. Experienced leaders are realizing that what worked in the past is no longer a viable option to lead the multigenerational, agile, and non-hierarchical organizations of today and tomorrow. Leaders who successfully navigate ambiguity and uncertainty are usually emotionally intelligent individuals who have been aware of their behaviors and had the courage to work on their emotional health. Business schools are not there yet…and as we enter the next phase of the super-competitive, super-human, and super-intense business era, we must prepare our leaders to share power, become more aware of their impact on others, and most importantly, maintain a healthy, sustainable high-performance while nurturing meaningful personal relationships in their lives.

 

What led you to begin coaching?

I was an Employee Assistance Program counselor when a group of us decided to introduce coaching as a service to our client companies in the late 90’s. It was obvious to us that many employees seeking our services could benefit from coaching, especially leaders who were struggling in their roles in management. It was exciting to begin the coaching practice as a team with my colleagues.

 

How does your background as a psychotherapist and social worker inform your work as a coach?

It takes courage for someone to begin a personal development journey. I believe my experience as a clinical social worker prepared me to treat others with empathy and respect for the vulnerability that’s intrinsic in the process of personal growth. I also find it helpful to have the tools to identify the best modality to help someone who might be requesting coaching services, when in fact they might benefit from mental health services. And lastly, I find extremely important to set and maintain healthy boundaries with my clients, and honestly, I don’t know if I would be good at it if I had not had clinical training to help me with this critical element of our coaching relationships.

 

 

What are your thoughts on Emotional Intelligence?

I often think about the saying: “One teaches what one needs to learn,” and that was true for me when I began my education on EI 20 years ago. I find it somewhat impossible to think about happiness and healthy relationships without referring to the elements of Emotional and Social Intelligence. I think that Daniel Goleman was brilliant in his ability to translate complex psychological constructs into meaningful and understandable concepts of our emotional lives. For me, EI provides guidance on how we can learn to enhance our experiences and achieve a sense of well-being as individuals and as members of society.

 

What drew you to become a Meta-Coach for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification?

When I heard about the EI certification program created by Dan Goleman and Michele Nevarez, I was immediately drawn to it. I have been using Dan’s work in my work with clients and teams for so many years, and the opportunity to be part of a like-minded community of practitioners in the inaugural cohort of the program was just an experience I could not miss! I know I will enjoy helping participants grow their skills and bring their potential to fruition, and that’s the greatest reward for me in my career. I have been working in corporate environments for 10 years now, and this program will help me reconnect with a higher purpose in my professional life. And of course, it will be a lot of fun to be with amazing people in the program.

 

 

What is your approach to coaching leaders managing an increasingly global and technological workforce?

This is what I have been doing for many years now…and from the beginning, I have applied a social work principle: Start where the client is. It never fails! In many instances, global organizations have a business culture that supersedes geographical cultural norms. That provides a positive force in these organizations which have established values and beliefs that can guide their workforce. But of course, we need to focus on cultural intelligence with global leaders and help them become adept at communicating through multiple digital platforms.

It seems that the globalization of the business world has diminished the differences among groups of workers from different countries. I have an optimistic view of the positive impact of globalization and technology in our lives. Coaching global leaders requires a lot of sensitivity to their own fears of inadequacy and vulnerability that permeate global contexts.

I use a simple approach to help them overcome these fears that I call the “curiosity” approach. I often tell leaders that demonstrating curiosity about new cultures, new norms, new technologies, and new ways of relating and working is a way to connect with others and a proven strategy for building trust and fostering collaboration.

 

What does inclusive leadership mean to you? How do you cultivate measurably inclusive practices in a corporate environment?

Inclusion is one of those topics that is often discussed, but rarely observed in real organizational life. I am proud of being part of an organization that truly believes in inclusive leadership and has been a leader in creating a diverse workforce. I personally hope that one day we will not need to use this terminology any longer as inclusion becomes business as usual in corporate environments. Inclusive Leadership is the practice of leading with “soft eyes,” which I translate as leading with an ability to focus while observing your surroundings and being attentive to the value of differences that permeate our relationships. Inclusive leadership is the art of valuing others with a non-judgmental orientation.

It is difficult to measure inclusive practices, but it is evident when consistently adopted by corporate leaders. The composition of a team can tell you a lot about inclusive leadership. Creating an environment where all individuals feel valued and listened to is another characteristic of inclusive leadership. I believe the most useful tool for measuring inclusive leadership is an engagement survey that asks about leadership practices. Engagement results are reflective of these practices.

 

Do you have any advice for people who would like to become coaches?

Besides going through coaching themselves, I would say that it is critical for aspiring coaches to know how to set boundaries with respect and empathy. And to achieve that, you must practice mindfulness so you are aware of your own biases, potential issues, and prepare yourself to be the best coach you can be.

 

 

 

 

Interested in being coached by Wagner and becoming a certified coach yourself? Apply now for the Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives through online learning, one-on-one guidance from a Meta-Coach, a coaching practicum, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Give Emotionally Intelligent Criticism

Whether you are a team leader or a member of a team, you will likely encounter situations in which you need to offer criticism or constructive feedback. While this can be difficult, giving feedback is a necessary part of leadership and being a member of a team. Teams that openly address counterproductive behavior create an environment that fosters continuous development, learning, and innovation. The ability to give effective, emotionally intelligent criticism is essential to high levels of team performance.

What Does It Mean to Offer Effective Criticism?

People who give effective criticism balance empathy and an understanding of the person they are giving feedback to with an objective and calm demeanor. They have developed trust through interpersonal understanding and compassion. They know team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and unique abilities. They know if someone would rather receive feedback one on one, or if they are fine with a group setting. They offer objective criticism and deliver it calmly, without divisive emotions.

While many of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies play a role in the ability to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control and Empathy are essential to giving effective criticism, particularly in relation to Teamwork.

How to Develop Emotional Self-Control

Developing Emotional Self-Control begins with recognizing your emotions as they occur. When you notice yourself experiencing a strong emotion, whether it be anger, frustration, or something else, make an effort to identify the source of the emotion.

Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your emotional state, while journaling can offer a healthy way to release emotions and track your state of mind over time. In both of these practices, avoid self-judgement. Recognize your thoughts and feelings, but do not overly identify with them or give them too much power.

In addition to making you equipped to give effective criticism, Emotional Self-Control can also make you better able to receive feedback. By contextualizing feedback as information, instead of taking it as a personal criticism, you can internalize it from a context beyond yourself as an individual. As with giving criticism, this is a vital skill for both team leaders and team members. In order to cultivate a team that actively self-evaluates, everyone involved must be open to input and new ideas.

How to Develop Empathy

While Emotional Self-Control requires tuning into your own emotions, Empathy can be developed by tuning into the emotions of others. Nonverbal indicators of emotion, such as facial expressions and body language, can help us get a sense of how others are feeling. More actively, asking questions, and showing genuine interest in people’s responses, makes us better able to understand their emotions and to care more deeply for them. Active listening, which includes making eye-contact when someone is speaking, and nodding if you agree with them, demonstrates your engagement with that person’s thoughts and feelings.

Developing Empathy is also key to fostering mutual trust on a team. Team members that are compassionate toward one another, and care about each other’s abilities and preferences, create an environment of trust, in which people feel comfortable holding each other accountable.   

How to Balance Emotional-Self Control and Empathy to Cultivate an Accountable Team

In her studies of Team EI Norms, detailed in Teamwork: A Primer, Vanessa Druskat found that balanced levels of specific competencies most accurately predicted the emergence of certain Team EI Norms. In the case of the Team EI Norm “addressing counterproductive behavior,” Druskat and her team found that team leaders with strengths in Emotional Self-Control are most able to cultivate an environment in which team members hold each other accountable.

“High empathy seemed to get in the way of providing ‘tough’ feedback. The optimal leader profile was a leader who had high empathy and also a high level of self-control.”

Leaders with a balance of Emotional Self-Control and Empathy can manage their emotions and deliver difficult feedback in an impactful way, while also considering the emotions of the person they are critiquing.

An effective balance between these two competencies also strengthens the Teamwork Competency. High levels of Empathy, balanced with Emotional Self-Control, yield teams focused on relationship development and effective accountability. Compassionate teams, that care about each other and their contributions to the group, lay a solid foundation for the creation of open channels for honest feedback. In this way, effective, emotionally intelligent criticism becomes a vital aspect of the team’s process, as they hold each other accountable for their level of performance.

Recommended Resources:

Interested in coaching others in Emotional Intelligence? Our new Daniel Goleman Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification is now accepting applications. This in-depth program, akin to a professional degree, draws upon a range of evidence-based concepts and practices, including the Emotional & Social Intelligence framework. Coaches will gain meaningful new insights to impact their personal and professional lives while elevating their expertise.

For further reading, our series of primers focuses on the 12 Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies, which include Emotional Self-Control, Empathy, and Teamwork.

The primers are written by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis, co-creators of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model, along with a range of colleagues, thought-leaders, researchers, and leaders with expertise in the various competencies. Explore the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete collection!

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How Meditation Fuels Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

meditation and emotional intelligence

Not many of my readers know this, but long before I started writing about emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness, I studied meditation. I started back in my college days, and found daily meditation calmed my undergraduate jitters and helped me focus better. To get a scientific look at what I had experienced, I did my doctoral research in psychology at Harvard University on how meditation might help us be less reactive to stress.

Back then, there were but two scientific studies of meditation I could point to. Today, there are more than 6,000. This past year or so, working with my friend since grad school, Professor Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, we used rigorous standards to review all that research. We share the strongest findings in our book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body. While 99 percent of the studies failed to meet these standards, about 60 – one percent – were first-rate. They make a convincing case for the positive, lasting effects of meditation.

Meditation and Emotional Intelligence

While continuing my interest in meditation, over the past 20+ years, of course, I’ve studied and written about emotional intelligence and its powerful role in high performance and leadership. My colleague, Richard Boyatzis of Case Western Reserve University, and I developed a model of emotional and social intelligence that centers around twelve learned and learnable competencies. Now when people ask me how to develop those competencies, my response often includes the power of meditation to strengthen emotional intelligence.

It’s not that meditation makes you expert in all twelve emotional intelligence competencies. Not at all. Exhibiting these at a high level takes specific learning, particular to each competence. But meditation has some general impacts that can help upgrade several of these leadership skills.

For example:

Emotional Self-Awareness supports development of all of the emotional intelligence competencies, simply because it allows us a way to monitor and evaluate what we do and how we think and feel. Mindfulness meditation cultivates emotional self-awareness, helping us develop the mental ability to pause and notice feelings and thoughts rather than immediately reacting. Seeing our thoughts as just thoughts, and feelings as just feelings gives us a platform for choosing more skillfully how we react, or to change for the better what we habitually do.

Emotional Self-Control means that you are in charge of your disruptive reactions, rather than your feelings controlling what you do. I’ve written extensively about the executive centers of our brain (the prefrontal cortex) and the fight-or-flight emotional centers (and their trigger, the amygdala). Research now shows that regular practice of mindfulness meditation builds the pathways between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex so that the calming, thoughtful influence of the prefrontal cortex can curb the knee-jerk reactions of the amygdala.

Empathy – tuning into and reading accurately how others feel – helps us manage our relationships. While emotional self-awareness helps you know yourself, empathy means being able to understand the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. My new book Altered Traits reviews several studies that show certain kinds of meditation enhance empathy – for example, just eight hours of a form of meditation known as loving-kindness or compassion meditation has been shown to strengthen our mental brain’s circuitry for empathy.

Conflict Management
Conflicts big and small are inevitable in work and in life. Being able to understand different perspectives and effectively work toward finding common ground is an essential skill for leaders at all levels of organizations. The building blocks of skillful conflict management include the other three competencies I mention above. Before we can manage conflict effectively, we need to recognize our own disruptive feelings and manage them. We also need to understand the feelings and perspectives of others. Just as mindfulness meditation supports development of the skills for knowing our own feelings and controlling them, those skills enhance our ability to manage conflict.

Emotional intelligence means being skilled at a variety of competencies. Meditation alone will not make you excel in these skill sets, but it can help. To become adept at the competencies, get a strong foundation by first learning to become aware, to focus, to interact with others in a constructive and meaningful way. These abilities are exactly what meditation helps to cultivate.

Recommended Reading:

Altered Traits audio coverAltered Traits is the newest book by bestselling author Daniel Goleman and neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson. Through thoughtful analysis of countless studies, the authors offer the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it. At the heart of what Goleman and Davidson aim to impress upon readers and listeners is that beyond the pleasant states mental exercises can produce, the real payoffs are the lasting personality traits that can result.

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How Empathic Concern Helps Leaders in Crisis

 

There are three types of empathy, according to researchers.

  • Cognitive empathy or perspective-taking is the capacity to consider the world from another individual’s viewpoint.
  • Emotional empathy is the kind of empathy in which you physically feel the emotions of the person you are interacting with. You connect with someone in a way that you take on their emotions.  Emotional empathy makes someone well-attuned to another person’s inner emotional world.
  • “Empathic concern” is the kind of empathy that moves people to action, and is the motivation behind our efforts to reduce the suffering of another.

There is a growing dialogue about the importance of empathy, specifically, “empathic concern” in the business community.

Once marginalized as not relevant to the hardscrabble world of shareholder value and the bottom line, empathy is taking center stage. In part, because we are learning that we do ourselves and workplace culture a huge disservice by trying to wall off our emotional selves.  Empathic concern is like an activating agent in a chemical process. Its presence or absence makes or breaks interactions.

From the research (see below), we know empathy is related to leadership emergence and effectiveness, and empathic leaders have followers who experience less stress and have fewer physical symptoms. Indeed, leaders high in the empathy competency will be more successful at motivating and leading their employees, and helping their employees cope with workplace stresses. They will be more attuned to their customers’ wants, have higher customer satisfaction, and be more innovative.

Empathic Concern in Action…

Consider an HR leader in the Asian offices of a global tech company, charged with leading a reduction in workforce.  In late 2008 the economy was severely hit by the financial crisis and the technology sector suffered deep losses. At a large high visibility tech company, reports of impending layoffs created a contagion of anxiety.  The Asian offices were quickly immersed in tumult because Korean labor law makes it nearly impossible to lay workers off. It was unheard of.

However, the Korea VP embodied social intelligence and empathic concern. He had a great deal of self-awareness and felt enormous pain for the circumstances his employees were facing. When he started having one-on-one’s with those who were impacted, he intentionally decided he would be “real.” He set aside business script and simply met with his fellow co-workers honestly, revealing how profoundly he cared. He told them he would do his best to advocate for them in negotiating separation packages and other benefits such as outplacement services. During the one-on-one’s, he noticed that he was tearful, which was culturally unorthodox, especially during the negotiation of severance packages. Despite behavioral norms, he didn’t hold his feelings back.

What happened next was surprising.  Because he showed authentic empathic concern, employees were much less antagonistic.  In fact, the whole negotiation process got easier, and the laid off staff signed the separation documents.  There was still healing that needed to happen, but it was much less divisive than it might have been.  Employees remarked that they didn’t feel it was personal. They believed the VP was doing the best he could for them.  It was a powerful example of the importance of sincere empathic concern and humble leadership during organizational crisis.

Experiences such as a financial crisis and a major workforce reduction are leadership crucibles. The most extraordinary leaders, when faced with crises, take time to ask themselves what matters most. In this case, the leader felt what mattered most was the lives of the people he worked with.

References:

  1. Boyatzis, Richard E. “Possible contributions to leadership and management development from neuroscience.” Academy of Management Learning & Education 13, no. 2 (2014): 300-303.
  2. Goleman, Daniel, Richard E. Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Primal leadership: Unleashing the power of emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Press, 2013.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!

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Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just “take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people–to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map–reactively or proactively–to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers include:

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Leader Empathy: The Key to Effective Relationships

 

In my article on Positive Outlook, I quoted a senior manager at a large US hospital network who described how mindfulness helped her minimize negative reactions to workplace experiences. This included an ability to remind herself that she was often not fully aware of the needs and motivations of others, and therefore should not rush to judge their intentions. Like the other 41 leaders I interviewed, her in-depth discussion of this topic showed an improved capacity for the Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) Competency of Empathy.

Empathy is one of the Social Awareness competencies in the twelve-competency Leadership Competency Model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Empirically linked to leadership performance, Empathy is present in leaders with an understanding of the motivations of others, and the ability to relate to differing perspectives.

Strength in this competency is also demonstrated by leaders who:

  • Listen attentively
  • Are able to understand unspoken or confused attempts at communication
  • Engage in actions indicating a sincere interest in others
  • Have an increased capacity to respect diversity

There are three types of empathy, each playing a role in building stronger relationships with others. The first is cognitive empathy, which refers to an intellectual awareness of the feelings, opinions and thoughts of others. Emotional empathy is the second, described as an ability to share the same emotional experience as another person. The third type is compassionate empathy, exemplified when we make efforts to help based on our understanding of the needs and feelings of others. The way we apply the three types of empathy also requires balance.

Specifically, being able to help those we empathize with sometimes requires emotional detachment. However, if this becomes a habit, it puts us at risk of becoming indifferent.

How Empathy Integrates with Workplace Activity

The leaders I interviewed described a strong relationship between their development of greater empathy, and significant improvements in the quality of their relationships. These improvements contributed to a variety of successes, largely due to the importance of having support in the workplace. The leaders credited Mindfulness with assisting in these improvements, specifically for the role it plays in directing attention to self-awareness. It was through this awareness that participants began to free themselves from unfounded beliefs about others, and improve their ability to relate to coworkers.

A senior leader at a family-owned global Industrial Manufacturing firm elaborated on the positive effect that being more empathic had on his leadership effectiveness. He reported becoming better able to recognize both the triggers and early signs of stress, anxiety, and conflict in his employees. This empathic awareness helped him to minimize these issues, and identify opportunities to help others calm themselves and focus. He said, “If you have a mindset where you really honestly care about other people, what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking, you will be much more attuned to that… feel the tension that somebody has maybe a little bit more. Just being a little bit more perceptive.”

Another leader, who has held senior and executive roles at one of the largest organizations in the world, emphasized the importance of having a better understanding of the needs of others. That leader said, “You can understand through empathy what is the other person’s concern and you can influence by helping. You know, in business you are supposed to create win-win scenarios… If you are able to focus your mind, and you are able to understand the needs and business requirements of the other person, you can create opportunities for them.”

Leaders also credited empathy with helping them engage in more collaborative behaviors. For example, they were more able to minimize the interference of judgment and bias, thereby improving the quality of their interactions. This openness was also linked to an improved ability to understand the true intentions behind the communication efforts of others.

How Can You Develop Greater Empathy?

Improving your ability to empathize with others helps you become aware of the mental and emotional resources that are wasted by thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that have no factual basis. Such awareness can be the starting point for reducing unproductive reactions in the future that lead to conflict or missed opportunities for collaboration. It can also prompt you to obtain accurate information directly from people, and invest in developing better interpersonal relationships.

You can strengthen your capacity for all three types of empathy by asking yourself a simple set of questions:

  1. How do you think a certain person feels about a specific event or topic?
  2. How would you feel if you were in their position?
  3. What facts do you have upon which to base your answers to 1 and 2?
  4. What is your plan to obtain accurate information from that person?
  5. How can you avoid coming to such conclusions in the future?

Regularly asking questions about the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others is a great way to build strong relationships and demonstrate empathy. The leaders I interviewed commented on the value that arises from engaging in this simple activity, for example: “My experience is the first thing that people really want is to be heard.” When developing empathy, keep in mind that insincerity will have a harmful effect on relationships. A number of leaders told me that they failed at half-hearted attempts to display empathy, and others stated that their coworkers could sense their level of sincerity. For these reasons, consistent empathic behavior is important, as is following up on commitments that arise from related conversations.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!