I was working with a client a few weeks ago and heard him say, "I just call it like I see it..." in response to being called insensitive after giving some brutally honest feedback to a coworker.
Think about that statement: "I" call it like "I" see it. You can call it like you think it is but it still remains your perception, not someone else's reality. Honest feedback is important but the way it gets delivered makes all the difference in the world. It is easy to think that it is only about getting results from people. Why should you care about hurt feelings? You should care because your goal when giving feedback should be to get better results by changing someone else's behavior. You cannot do that until you change your own behavior first.
This week we explore the EQ skill of Empathy. Empathy by definition is "identification with or vicarious experiencing of, the feelings or thoughts of another person" but in the context of Emotional Intelligence, it is deeper than that. It is about reading the emotional needs of someone else; fully connecting with them to understand how they think and prefer to communicate.
Empathy is not sympathy, and it is not always agreeing with someone else's preferences. Empathy requires us to frame our message differently based on who we are with, and more importantly being able to recognize that the way the message is delivered can be more important than the message itself. We use Empathy when we select the most appropriate means of communication (email, phone, text, in person). Low Empathy sounds like: "I don't text so I am not doing that" and we expect others to adjust to us and what we are comfortable with. Low Empathy also sounds like: "the truth hurts" and "it's not personal, it's business."
Exceptional leaders understand that people are the most motivated when they receive fair, clear, and respectful performance feedback. For those who just want employees to come in and check their feelings at the door, must remember that employees bring their head AND their heart to work - it's a package deal. But here is a little secret - you can show Empathy even if you don't feel Empathy.
Here are some suggestions:
1. If your tendency is to walk into the office Monday morning and get right to task, assigning duties, asking for deliverables, and setting the priorities for the day - STOP. Many people in the office need to reconnect with you before they can move on to a task. Delay your needs by 120 seconds to ask how their weekend was and make some small talk. Likewise, if you are someone who enjoys 15 minutes of chit-chat with co-workers over your morning coffee, cut that down to 2 minutes and skip the gory details of your weekend with the person who just wants to get to work.
2. When you have to deliver bad news, consider in advance how it will sound to others. Some will want to hear it straight, with little superfluous data included. Others will need to be eased in, gently told, and will want to ask a lot of questions; feeling they have your support. Let go of your own preference for hearing tough messages and meet the needs of the other person first.
3. Body language speaks volumes: if you want to show Empathy you must give someone your undivided attention, use eye contact, show concern in your tone, resist the urge to speak and just listen to understand them. Don't judge or try and fix them.
4. Ask yourself how often you are focused on your own needs and concerns without much thought to others? When communicating with others, be cognizant of how much time is spent talking about you and your opinions versus asking questions and listening to others.
Part of being emotionally intelligent requires us to get out of our comfort zone - to meet others in theirs - and the pathway to get there is by demonstrating Empathy.
It can be difficult to see how this approach will get you what you need. However, even a small gesture goes a long way with others, and they will want to work with you when they see that it doesn't always have to be about you. As it has been said, the Golden Rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated. But the Platinum Rule is to treat others the way they want to be treated.