* shuffles forward and adjusts apple crate… er, podium *
Empathy is a desire-able ‘thing’. It’s not ‘touchy feely’; it’s a skill most worthy of obtaining. Empathy starts with self-awareness, in that understanding your own emotions is essential to understanding the feelings of others. It is crucial to effective communication and to leading others.
Lack of empathy is a primary cause of interpersonal difficulties that lead to poor performance, mis-understandings, and problems with just about anyone you come in contact with — be it personal or public.
Empathy as a skill is poorly understood by those who need it most; it is why big-time excutives are now having to ‘take training’ so they can at least learn why they are failing due to ‘lack of empathy’. Lots of people believe you either have it or you don’t. Some very intelligent leaders are walking around blindly using only their powers of reasoning and wondering why everyone doesn’t see things their way.
Without an adequate capacity to understand the other’s point of view, some leaders lack sufficient flexibility for change, cannot work well within a team environment, and cannot relate well with the very people that affect the results they are trying to achieve.
Empathy can be defined as the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view – to be able to “walk in someone else’s moccasins.” One definition of empathy is the ability to read other people. Other definitions include the concept of identifying with the other person or their situation. This implies more than a cognitive understanding, more than just remembering a similar situation that you may have gone through yourself. Empathy means that you can recall some of those same feelings based on your own memories. There is a sharing and identifying with emotional states.
What does this have to do with being a Jedi (other than the obvious part of negotiating, working with, guiding others — be it in peace or war?) Obviously, if Jedi were to take the time to listen with empathy at everything that was said, nothing would get done. Furthermore, one cannot fall prey to being swept up into every person’s story. Jedi must have empathy, but use it as another tool in ‘their belt’ to provide focus and guide those they are working with to completion of ‘the goal’.
What can empathy ‘do’ as a tool?
1. Understanding others: Sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns
2. Service orientation: Anticipating, recognizing and meeting customers’ needs
3. Developing others: Sensing others’ developmental needs and bolstering their abilities
4. Leveraging diversity: Cultivating opportunities through diverse people
5. Political awareness: Reading the political and social currents in an organization
Jedi are supposed to be ‘good’ at helping others to meet those traits and characteristics that lead to successful goal completion (being known for having high achievement orientation and high focusing abilities.) That’s why Jedi tend to be asked to be in positions of high responsibility (pathfinders, explorers, combat leaders, political advisors.) Success depends a great deal on having focus, being able to persevere, and being able to concentrate. But focus alone can result in undesirable consequences if not counterbalanced by empathy. Focus alone will not result in the fulfillment of goals. Focus and empathy will.
Empathy skills are those that involve paying attention to other people – things like listening, attending to needs and wants of others, and building relationships. When empathy skills are high, one is more likely to inspire the troops. When a Jedi understands his/her people and communicates that to them, he/she is more liked and respected. And that is how practicing empathy results in better performance. When a Jedi is respected, the people they lead are more likely to go the extra mile. Empathy and focus need to be balanced, and when they are, managing skills are optimally effective.
But, hey… it’s not all roses in this world (or any other).
So what happens when some fellow traveller, pissed off co-worker, or normally friendly buddy goes ballistic on you and rains negative vibes on your personal parade? How do you normally react?
1. Here we go again. Another annoying complainer. This is a waste of my time.
2. I’m going to sit here and pretend to listen and then give them the facts to blast their delusions.
3. Why can’t he/she pay attention to the really important issues… (like getting a project completed on time, etc.?)
4. Why is this an issue? I need to get more information.
5. What is this person really saying here? Or, rather, what is not being said and maybe needs to be addressed?
The first response is one in which you are focusing on yourself and your needs. Responses #2 and #3 focus on the goals and needs of the organization. All of the first three responses are lacking in empathy. Response #4 focuses on the other person. And response #5 focuses on the other person and the ‘bigger picture’. The last response shows the most empathy because it goes beyond what is being said.
At the outset empathy involves real curiosity and a desire to know or understand. There is a genuine interest in what the person is saying and feeling. You cannot have empathy without asking questions. Some typical ones are:
1. “Can you say more about that?”
2. “Really? That’s interesting. Can you be more specific?”
3. “I wasn’t aware of that. Tell me more.”
4. “I’m curious about that…let’s discuss this in more depth.”
5. “Let me see if I understand you correctly…here is what I hear you say…”
Jedi who are high in empathy skills are able to pick up emotional cues. They can appreciate not only what a person is saying, but also why they are saying it. At the highest levels, they also understand where a person’s feelings might come from.
Those that do not have empathy have a tendency to misread the other person. They do not ask questions to clarify. They do not pay attention to non-verbal cues. Those people who are analytical by nature will listen to the words, facts and figures and completely miss the real message of what is being said.
If we remember that only 7% of the message is carried in the words and the rest is in the non-verbal cues, then listening to the content of what is being said may actually be misleading.
Do not panic!
** offers a traveling towel and a worn copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy **
Fortunately, empathy is a learned capability and like other competencies, it can be acquired. You can work with a mentor who shows proficiency with empathy; perhaps read a book or two on ‘how it is supposed to work’. However, empathy skills must be learned experientially, that is, practiced in the field in real-time. So, another ‘checklist’…
1. Keep a log of situations in which you felt you were able to demonstrate empathy and a log in which you felt you did not. Make a note of missed opportunities to respond with empathy.
2. Become aware of incidents where there may be some underlying concerns that are not explicitly expressed by others.
3. Make a note of possible emotions or feelings that the other person may be experiencing. Keep an open mind and never assume, merely explore the possibilities.
4. Develop a list of questions to ask at your next encounter with that person. Try to make the questions open-ended, that is, questions that can’t be answered by yes or no.
5. Practice listening without interrupting. Wait until the other person is complete with their point of view before offering yours. (and do not stand there with you mind going 90 miles a second on other ‘things’ … or already feeling superior with a ‘canned response’ before even REALLY listening to what is being said! MORE assuming and ignoring the 93% non-verbal clues!!!)
6. Avoid being defensive in order to create an open dialogue where possibilities can be explored freely.
7. Allow creative time for people to express opinions and ideas without judgment.
8. Practice active listening: always check out the meaning of what was said with the person speaking. Paraphrasing what was said helps to clear up misconceptions and to deepen understanding.
9. Always bring focus back into the conversation. Remember that optimal effectiveness is achieved by a combination of focus and empathy.
10. Work on achieving an effective balance of focus, goal orientation and empathic listening.
So.. empathy is a ‘good thing’ to cultivate… as a person and a Jedi.
** steps down and dusts off the apple crate… er, podium for the next person **