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Leading with Emotional Intelligence: The Power of Empathy

The Power of Empathy

The business community has embraced the concept of emotional intelligence and its importance ever since Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book, Working with Emotional Intelligence (1998). The challenge is to demonstrate that such competencies significantly impact employee performance.

Studies in corporations that have adopted emotional intelligence training have shown that “EI” can be trained and it is effective. There are overall improvements in productivity and profits.  Furthermore, up to 90% of the difference between outstanding and average leaders is linked to emotional intelligence. “EI” is two times as important as IQ and technical expertise combined, and is four times as important in terms of overall success.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your own feelings and those of others, and the ability to motivate yourself and others, as well as to manage your own emotions and those of others. Essentially, there are four competencies:

1.  Understanding yourself, or self-awareness

2.  Managing yourself, or self-management

3.  Understanding others, or social awareness

4.  Managing others, or social skills

Perhaps it would be better to simplify the concept. Emotional intelligence increases when people commit themselves to building practical competencies in the context of every day situations. Nothing can be more powerful than developing empathy skills during everyday conversations on the job.

One of the foundation skills that contribute to a manager’s or leader’s success is the skill of empathy. It 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, executive derailment, and problems with customer relationships.

Empathy as a competency skill is poorly understood by those who need it most, and it is even more difficult to train and acquire. Most people believe you either have it or you don’t. Many hard-driving managers lack a propensity for developing empathy because they assume it’s for the more “touchy-feely” types. Some very intelligent leaders are walking around blindly using only their powers of reasoning and wondering why everyone doesn’t see things their way.

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes of derailment in executives involve deficits in emotional competency, and in particular, these three primary ones:                                                                                                                                        

1. Difficulty in handling change.

2. Not being able to work well as a team.

3. Poor interpersonal relations.

Without an adequate capacity to understand the other’s point of view, some managers lack sufficient flexibility for change, cannot work well with team collaboration, and cannot relate well with the very people that affect the results they are trying to achieve.

What Is Empathy?

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.” Goleman defines it as 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 running a business, managing a company and dealing with bottom-line performance issues? Obviously, if managers 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. Managers and leaders must keep the focus and guide people to goal completion.

According to Goleman, empathy represents the foundation skill for all the social competencies important for work:

  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’ development 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

Managers and leaders are usually high in those traits and characteristics that lead to successful goal completion, such as high achievement orientation and high focusing abilities. That’s why they get promoted to management positions. 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 - for example, listening, attending to the needs and wants of others, and building relationships. When empathy skills are high, one is more likely to inspire the troops. When a manager understands his/her people and communicates that to them, he/she is more liked and respected. That is how practicing empathy results in better performance. When a manager 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.

Both managers and employees need empathy in order to interact well with customers, suppliers, the general public, and with each other. Managers need it even more when they are assigning a task to someone who won’t like it; when offering criticism to someone who predictably will get defensive; when having to deal with someone who isn’t liked; when dealing with employee disputes; and when giving bad news such as telling someone that they won’t be promoted or that they’re being laid off. The first step in dealing with any negativity is to empathize. The next step is to focus back to the goals and the tasks at hand.

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…”

Managers and leaders 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.

Learning the Skill of Empathy

How then to learn effective empathy if you are one of those task-oriented managers who is primarily focused on achievement? The good news is that your achievement orientation and focusing abilities will help you in acquiring empathy skills. The bad news is that it may not be natural at first. Fortunately, empathy is a learned capability and like other competencies, it can be acquired.

Here are some steps to take to begin improving empathy as an effective management tool. Like all the emotional competencies, it is better to practice with an experienced coach who can monitor and give effective feedback. Reading a book and taking a class can both help to gain a greater cognitive understanding of what is involved. However, empathy skills must be learned experientially, that is, practiced in the field in real-time.

Ten Ways to Develop Empathy

1.    Keep a note of situations in which you felt you were able to demonstrate empathy and a note when 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.

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.

The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence 

The following examples of research offer a bottom-line rationale for emotional competency training in hiring, selecting, and retaining personnel, developing performance measurements, and in managing customer relationships.

After supervisors in a manufacturing plant received training in emotional competencies such as how to listen better and help employees resolve problems on their own, lost-time accidents were reduced by 50 percent, formal grievances were reduced from an average of 15 per year to 3 per year, and the plant exceeded productivity goals by $250,000 (Pesuric & Byham, 1996).     

In another manufacturing plant where supervisors received similar training, production increased 17 percent. There was no such increase in production for a group of matched supervisors who were not trained (Porras & Anderson, 1981).

The US Air Force used the EQ-I (Emotional Quotient Inventory, Multi-Health Systems, Toronto) to select recruiters and found that the most successful recruiters scored significantly higher in the emotional competencies of assertiveness, empathy, happiness and emotional self-awareness. They found that by using EI to select recruiters, they increased their ability to predict successful recruiters by nearly three-fold. The immediate gain was a saving of $3 million annually.

An analysis of more than 300 top level executives from fifteen global companies showed that six emotional competencies distinguished star performers from average: influence, team leadership, organizational awareness, self-confidence, achievement drive, and leadership (Spencer, 1997).

Financial advisors at American Express whose managers completed the Emotional Competence training program were compared to managers who had not. During the year following training, the trained managers grew their businesses by 18.1% compared to 16.2% of those whose managers were untrained.

In a large beverage firm, using standard methods to hire division presidents, 50% left within two years, mostly because of poor performance. When they started selecting based on emotional competencies such as initiative, self-confidence, and leadership, only 6% left in two years. The executives selected based on EI were far more likely to perform in the top third: 87% were in the top third. Division leaders with these competencies outperformed their targets by 15 to 20 percent. Those who lacked emotional competencies under-performed those that did by almost 20% (McClelland, 1999).

Transformational leaders can create a full engagement culture driven by purpose and passion by working with an executive coach and culture change expert. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put positive leadership into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be build a company culture built on trust? Transformational leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I a transformational leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders create a culture where respect and trust flourish.

Working with a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant trained in emotional intelligence and incorporating assessments such as the Bar-On EQ-I, CPI 260 and Denison Culture Survey can help leaders nurture mindful conversations in the workplace. You can become an inspiring leader who models emotional intelligence and social intelligence, and who inspires people to become fully engaged with the vision, mission and strategy of your company or law firm.

Working Resources is a San Francisco Bay Area Executive Coaching Firm Helping Innovative Companies and Law Firms Assess, Select, Coach, Engage and Retain Emotionally Intelligent Leaders; Executive Coaching; Leadership Development; Performance-Based Interviewing; Competency Modeling; Succession Management; Culture Change; Career Coaching and Leadership Retreats

...About Dr. Maynard Brusman

Dr. Maynard Brusman

Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach|
Trusted Advisor to Executive Leadership Teams
Mindfulness & Emotional Intelligence Workplace Expert

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and executive coach. He is the president of Working Resources, a leadership consulting and executive coaching firm. We specialize in helping San Francisco Bay Area companies select and develop emotionally intelligent leaders.  Maynard is a highly sought-after speaker and workshop leader. He facilitates leadership retreats in Northern California and Costa Rica. The Society for Advancement of Consulting (SAC) awarded Dr. Maynard Brusman "Board Approved" designations in the specialties of Executive Coaching and Leadership Development.

“Maynard Brusman is one of the foremost coaches in the United States. He utilizes a wide variety of assessments in his work with senior executives and upper level managers, and is adept at helping his clients both develop higher levels of emotional intelligence and achieve breakthrough business results. As a senior leader in the executive coaching field, Dr. Brusman brings an exceptional level of wisdom, energy, and creativity to his work.” — Jeffrey E. Auerbach, Ph.D., President, College of Executive Coaching

For more information, please go to http://www.workingresources.com, write to mbrusman@workingresources.com, or call 415-546-1252.

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