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Empathy: The fundamental skill for connecting with others

Empathy is often described as the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person. Some people argue that as much as we try to do this, it can be a challenge if you have never had a similar experience. Certainly this is a valid comment but like any other aspect of effective communication it is possible to learn the skills of empathy if truly committed. We all have imagination and the ability to listen and depending on your intention it is possible to understand another person’s situation – their perspectives, emotions, actions (reactions) – and communicate this to the person.

Empathy is an Emotional Intelligence (EI) competency. In the field of Emotional Intelligence, Goldman’s original framework consisted of five dimensions:

Self- Regulation
Relationship Management

Why bother developing Empathy?
Empathy is critical for leadership
Research has shown that what employees want is to feel like their manager listens to them. When leaders really listen, using empathy to understand what the person is thinking or feeling without trying to offer solutions or strategies to solve their problem this is when people feel valued. Empathy creates safety and when people are free to be themselves, they are much more likely to be motivated and productive.

Empathy enables shared team learning
Without empathy, people tend to go about life focused on what is happening for them. Without empathy, team learning is simply not possible. Each of us has differing perspectives and if we cannot move from our own perspective, we fail to truly learn and to share. Without taking a moment to listen, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions. This often leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale and even divorce. People do not feel heard and importantly not […]

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence has been described as ‘consciously integrating feeling, thought and action to create choice in relationships with self and others’ (Source: Six Seconds). In essence, what we say to ourselves (our self-talk or beliefs) and about others determines our reality.  By becoming more aware of our thinking and disputing potentially destructive/negative thoughts can result in us feeling differently. This awareness can certainly assist us in achieving our true potential.  Howard Gardner, a respected leader in the field of emotional intelligence (EQ, as opposed to IQ – the traditional measure of intelligence) from the Harvard Business School identifies self-awareness as a crucial element of emotional intelligence.
Research has shown that by increasing someone’s awareness, bringing it into a new focus and breaking out of old patterns, you can even alter aging!  This phenomenon was brilliantly demonstrated in 1979 by psychologist Ellen Langer and her team at Harvard, who effectively reversed the biological age of a group of old men by a simple but ingenious shift in awareness.  The men, all aged 75 or older in good health were asked to meet for a weeks’ retreat at a country resort.  They knew in advance that they would be given a battery of physical and mental exams, but in addition one unusual stipulation was placed upon them: they were not allowed to bring any newspapers, magazines, books or family photos dated later than 1959.

The purpose of this odd request became clear when they arrived – the resort had been set up to duplicate life as it was twenty years earlier.  Instead of magazines from 1979, the reading tables held issues of ‘Life’ and the ‘Saturday Evening Post’ from 1959.  The only music played was twenty years old, […]

When ‘yes’ means ‘no’

During a recent appointment/life counseling session with my hairdresser we were on the topic of work/life balance (or rather the lack thereof), when he imparted some invaluable advice. He told me that the next time I say “yes” to something, I was to consider what it is I’m saying “no” to. On my drive home I began reflecting on this. During that week, by saying “yes” to additional work on a program, I’d said “no” to time in my garden; by saying “yes” to dinner with work associates, I’d said “no” to dinner with my family. The word “no” often has bad connotations. We associate it with refusal, rejection, dismissal. But really, saying “no” to others can be about saying “yes” to you.


Setting Boundaries

At a recent Learning Circle, some women in the group commented that they were having difficulty establishing personal boundaries in their work relationships. It seems that the border between professional and personal relationships can be a hard one to patrol, particularly when we spend so much of our week at work. The prospect of setting boundaries often comes encumbered with a sense of formality, but essentially it’s about assertive communication and preserving integrity – integrity of work, self and others.

A simple model for setting boundaries:

Make ‘I’ statements –  “I felt frustrated when you spoke over the top of me in our meeting”
Ask for your boundaries to be respected – “You need to let me finish my point before launching into yours.”
Gain commitment –Relationships are more harmonious when people know what to expect and what is expected of them. “In the future we need to communicate in a respectful manner. I expect you to respect my perspective and I will do the same of you”
Follow-through – Actions speak louder than words. It’s important we make a conscious effort to maintain the boundaries we set with our co-workers and model the behaviour we wish to see in others.
Above all else, don’t take boundary breaches personally. We can’t take responsibility for the manner in which other people communicate. In the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt  – No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.