Reflect on the last time you snapped at someone out of irritation or anger. Or when you realized you had disparaging remarks about their smarts, social skills or even their points of view. Or when their struggle and pain caught you by surprise.
For most of us, this won’t be too difficult.
Pause for a moment to really tune into what was going on for you at the time – notice your body’s sensations, your feelings at that time, your self-talk.
Then note what was going on in the situation – the context and details.
Then zero in on the other person or team or family member – what might they be experiencing or feeling or thinking?
These moves I’ve just asked you to make all involve self-awareness and awareness of the others in our world, both aspects of emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence, defined by Dr. Dan Goleman, is “the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions as well as to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others.”
I had to employ both of these myself over the past few weeks.
- I found myself irritable when, at an event last week, the details were going sideways and I felt my anxiety ratchet up -I found myself talking fast.
- The home inspection that needs to happen, post-renovation, has been postponed – again. I found myself impatient and gritting my teeth while entertaining less-than-gracious thoughts toward the contractor whom I believe is not a good steward of our time and resources.
- My mom has a hairline fracture causing her a lot of pain, and I felt helpless, heavy-hearted, and irritated by the doctors.
When we’re attuned to ourselves first (I’m aware this may go against early training for many of us who were raised to put others first) we can feel ourselves, quite literally.
And, when we can feel ourselves, it’s easier to feel others too. This is the shortest description I know of what we call empathy.
We’re wired to feel and experience all of it: our sensations, our emotions, and the perceptions we call thoughts. Feeling ourselves is one of our keen superpowers as humans.
But, like any superpower, we’ve got to learn how to use it.
By consciously registering incoming sensory data, we can transform experiences of pain and distressful emotions like disappointment, distrust, contempt, and hate, into empathy, trust, and compassion.
People who are better at reading sensations connected to emotions, such as a quickened heartbeat, a flushed face, or slow breathing, score higher on psychological tests of empathy.
This intuitive capacity has become increasingly important for leaders.
A scholarly review of gut intuitions concludes that using feelings as information is a generally sensible judgmental strategy, rather than a perennial source of error, as the hyper-rational might argue.
In short, tuning into your senses will produce emotionally relevant context for you to make your best decisions in a nanosecond.
Perspective-taking and empathy are complex skills that require attentiveness and practice.
Perspective-taking involves opening up to a new view or outlook different from our own and staying open despite differences or challenges. It involves viewing the world through another’s eyes to understand and appreciate values and beliefs that are quite different from our own.
Perspective-taking is an innate human capacity that allows us to notice and feel other people’s emotions and experiences and provides us with a compass to navigate our social world. To attune this way and feel into another person’s emotions and experiences is to have empathy, even to the point of feeling their experiences in our own body.
As young children, we learn early to notice a parent’s or teacher’s shifts in energy and mood from irritated to excited to angry and anticipate their behaviors.
Without perspective-taking, we are unable to empathize, engage in moral reasoning, extend love, or even hold a healthy conversation.
As leaders, it is important to create relationships of trust in which we can minimize potential blind spots and reduce the mischief caused when we believe our stories without verification.
This involves the attentive work of entering each other’s world to get to know what we each mean about the same experience to broaden our perspectives.
I’d love to hear from you–check out the section below because I’d like to know what you think!
ABOUT THE CREATOR OF The Leadership Pause
I’m Dr. Chris Johnson, psychologist, executive coach and author of The Leadership Pause: Sharpen Your Attention, Deepen Your Presence and Navigate the Future available on Barnes & Noble, Bookshelf, and Amazon
I drew content from my book in crafting Calm the Chaos for Busy Professionals, an online course, and Are You Willing to Go First: Conversational Keys to Leadership Success, two of my popular course offers.I publish The Leadership Pause newsletter bi-weekly on LinkedIn. If you’re not already subscribed, click the Subscribe button to follow me too!