One of the most fundamental truths about leadership is that it involves relationships. We should, therefore, care a great deal about relational practices that connect us to our followers and others with whom we work.
What if there was a single concept that immediately calmed nearly any relational turmoil? An idea that caused everyone involved, whether emotionally defending themselves or intellectually throwing punches, to put their boxing gloves down? A commitment that, when used over the long haul, transforms us into relational samurais?
Well, guess what…there is.
It’s called empathy.
Years ago I was in a very difficult dialogue with a subcontractor. He was upset with me. I was upset with him. The conversation was going nowhere. Fast. So in a moment of lucidity I paused my emotions internally and asked myself, “What must it feel like to be him? How must it feel to be confronted by me in this moment? What pressures and anxiety would I be experiencing if I were on the other end of the phone right now?”
The next words out of my mouth changed the tone of the conversation instantly. I said, “If I’m in your shoes, I bet this is hard. I’m guessing it is very frustrating to talk through this with me. I’m sorry that this is so hard. I get why it would be.” His voice immediately softened and for the next few minutes we had actual dialogue for the first time in the conversation.
When I paused long enough to feel what he was feeling and then expressed that back to him with genuine sincerity, it arrested the relational negativity of the moment. In an instant it changed everything. We have opportunities to empathize with those around us, followers and co-workers alike, almost daily. But we often miss those opportunities. The thinking and internal regulation necessary to empathize with others often requires intentional effort. Few of us do it naturally. (I know I don’t.)
Don't Miss Out
Empathy is the greatest relationship hack ever. When we commit to regularly putting ourselves in the shoes of those around us so that we can feel what they are feeling and then express that back to them, it changes not only our perspectives but the emotional states of everyone involved. If we leave empathy out of our leadership, we miss out on one of leadership’s most important and valuable commitments.
Stay tuned next week when we look at another real-life example of empathy in action in one of the toughest (but quite common) circumstances in business.
Share Your Thoughts:Have you ever witnessed or personally experienced great empathy from a leader? What happened and how did the leader's empathy impact the situation?We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.
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