I walk past you every day.
I see you. I am aware of you.
I try to see things through your eyes. I try.
I wonder how you got to be where you are?
I am curious how you view the world, view these streets?
The same streets I walk each day.
I listen to you. I am curious about you. I love you.

In January this year, we moved into an apartment in the city. I wrote this poem on a tram heading to my office one morning as I tuned in and payed attention to the number of people who live on the streets, our neighbourhood, their neighbourhood.

The move to the city has invited me to be more understanding. As I have stepped into this space of understanding I have realised, that you can learn to understand others, even if you have not had that same direct experience as they are having or have had.

By simply bringing an intention of trying to connect with people and thinking more about what makes us connect with humans, we are far better placed to do this when we understand others, regardless of how different your views of the world may be.

When you think, feel, and act kindly, you hasten your ability to connect to the power of intention.

How well do you know the people you work with?

How well do you understand the people you serve?

Some leaders I mentor, struggle with building social relationships. This becomes a problem for them when working with people all day, because relationships are critical.

If you are a leader who is serving others; colleagues, team members, customers, I am guessing you have many competing priorities to deal with on any one day. This can be a trap. This can make it hard for people to connect with you and you with others.

  • You may make assumptions. Assumptions about how the other person thinks, feels and what they need from you.
  • You may believe that everyone thinks like you.. and guess what.. they don’t. Your truth may not be theirs.
  • You may have created some habits that prevent you from really listening and often get stuck in your head, spending time planning your responses rather than really listening to the other person.

The good news is; we can all learn to be more understanding.. the skill is empathy and this is a core leadership competency for the 21st century and the future.

Dr Helen Riess author of The Empathy Effect  talks about how her curiosity to find out what makes people connect and disconnect, led her to groundbreaking science that was the catalyst for creating empathy training for doctors and nurses across the US.

The training resulted in evidence that proved when doctors really listen to their patients, really show care and compassion, treat people like a whole person and understand their concerns, this actually help’s doctors be more receptive and perceptive in their responses. This makes patients feel like their needs are being responded to and that they are being seen and heard.

Gaining greater rapport, even 50% greater will build loyal relationships in your world.

When you know what you audience, staff, patients or customer wants, needs and motivations are, you have the ability to increase your effectiveness in influencing people.

The key is to have the intention in the first place to understand others wants, needs and motivations.

Develop Empathy

There are two things you can do immediately to help you develop more empathy at work so that you can better connect with your employees and so they can better connect with your customers.

  1. Make time for reflection
  2. Practise deep listening

Make Time for Reflection

We all have the capacity to feel emotions but being aware of how they show up, when they show up and how this impacts others is critical in a leadership role. Every interaction you have with your team has an emotional subtext. When you frown, it makes others worried; when you smile, it makes others feel happy. This is a transfer of feeling called emotional contagion and it’s why self-awareness and time for reflection are crucial as a frontline leader. The great news is that you can check yourself often. You can check yourself at the times of the day that matter the most.

Check yourself before your day begins, before you start your shift, before you walk into a meeting.

A great technique that I have used over the years is a quick technique;

Catch, Check and Correct.

  • Catch your thoughts and emotions: what am I thinking
    and feeling right now?
  • Check them: how will these thoughts and emotions serve
    me and the people around me?
  • Correct them: what is a more useful way of being in this
    moment for myself and others?

Practise Deep Listening

We cannot be empathetic if we do not learn to listen. However, there is a big difference between listening to respond and listening to understand. Listening to respond is really someone wanting to finish your sentence, give you the answer or contribute to the conversation so they feel good, important and heard, which in actual fact makes it all about them and not about you.

Listening to understand requires you to have a single-minded focus on what is happening in that very moment. It requires you to avoid tuning into the internal dialogue and chatter of the mind; it requires you to be fully there with attention out to the person in front of you. This is super tricky when we are often serving people (employees and customers) in noisy environments with many distractions like phones and emails.

As leaders, I’m sure we can all relate to a situation in service where we have started a conversation with an employee and they have not heard us. They have been stuck in their own head, possibly made some assumptions about your needs and how the interaction will play out, and as a consequence have missed a cue from you and made the whole interaction feel disingenuous and fake.

Conscious leaders will display brilliant listening skills. Their attention is out towards the other person, they block distractions when with people, they listen to understand, they care, they listen to what is not being said and to context and meaning behind the words.

Staff will always start by telling you what you want to hear or what they think you want to hear. The truth about a matter, or how an employee is feeling, will eventually come out, provided there is enough space and silence for the employee.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that “Understanding is Loves other name”

My dearest friend and senior facilitator of the business would explain to people in our workshops, that when we seek to understand others; it’s not that we need to view this as an outcome but rather a process.

Sometimes when we teach empathy people in the room misunderstand empathy as a result, where two people end up being on the same page. The truth of the matter; this is not always the case.

I often have varied views to what my partner may have.

My mentees and students will often bring a different view to a conversation that I cannot see. I am always happy to be in a place of disagreement, embrace our differences and respect healthy opinions and views; if we have both tried to understand the other. Perhaps the outcome that comes from understanding others, is love, compassion.

Get out of your head and keep your attention
outwards. Empathy will keep you humble, build trust
with your people and help you transform your
approach to your work and your relationships.

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