leadership coaching

Leading Through Trust: Understanding

In Part One of this six-part series, we explored trust in the context of organisations and in society generally, and how hard it can be; sometimes, this is despite trust being at the heart of every relationship, whether in our personal lives or at work. I also introduced a model based on the best available information, research and my own experience in terms of what works. In Part Two, we discussed Transparency, including six strategies to develop our transparency. We then examined Relationships and eight important strategies to build long-term, productive relationships.

In this article, we are going to discuss our third element in our Trust Model – Understanding, or what is more commonly known as empathy.

Empathy Defined

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It’s different from sympathy in that you aren’t feeling sorry or pity for someone; you are attempting to relate to them by feeling what they are feeling at any given moment.

Although some people might view empathy as a non-critical ‘warm and fuzzy’ concept or even as a ‘soft-skill’, empathy is a super-important in being able to build relationships and foster a high-trust team. By the way, the term ‘soft-skill’ is a complete myth. The so called soft-skills are much harder to develop and implement than technical skills.

Indeed, empathy is valued currency. It allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and it informs our decisions. There are numerous studies that link empathy to business results. They include studies that correlate empathy with increased sales, with the performance of the best managers of product development teams and with enhanced performance in an increasingly diverse workforce. According to the 2018 State of Workplace Empathy report, CEOs are beginning to see the light. Eighty-seven percent of CEOs (as well as 79 percent of HR professionals) agree that a company’s financial performance is tied to empathy. On the other end, 90 percent of employees are more likely to stay with an organisation that empathises with their needs, while 79 percent would consider leaving their organisation if it became less empathetic.

How to Build Empathy

Here are my top ten strategies to develop your empathy further:

#1: Put aside your viewpoint and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

When you do this, you’ll realise that other people most likely aren’t being evil, unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable – they’re probably just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have.

#2: Validate the other person’s perspective.

Once you “see” why others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Remember: acknowledgment does not always equal agreement. You can accept that people have different opinions from your own, and that they may have good reason to hold those opinions.

#3: Needing to be right.

Are you more concerned with getting your way, winning, or being right? Or, is your priority to find a solution, build relationships, and accept others? Without an open mind and attitude, you probably won’t have enough room for empathy. You can say things like, “I see it a little differently…” for example. It avoids the ‘you’re wrong / I’m right’ nonsense.

#4: Listen.

Listen to what people are saying by listening with your ears, eyes and your ‘gut’. What is being said, and what tone is being used? What body language are you picking up and is it congruent with the words you’re hearing? And finally, tune in to what your intuition might be telling you. Above all, don’t interrupt people or be dismissive. Allow people their moment.

#5: Be fully present when you are with people.

Don’t check your email, look at your watch or take phone calls when a direct report drops into your office to talk to you. Put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if your boss did that to you?

#6: Encourage the quieter voices.

Encourage people, particularly the quiet ones, to speak up in meetings. And when they do speak up, support them, reinforce their courage to state a controversial opinion. A simple thing like an attentive nod can boost people’s confidence.

#7: Give genuine recognition and praise.

Pay attention to what people are doing and catch them doing the right things. When you give praise, spend a little effort to make your genuine words memorable: “You are an asset to this team because…”; “This was pure genius”; “I would have missed this if you hadn’t picked it up.”

#8: Take a personal interest in people.

Show people that you care, and genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.

#9: Focus on other people’s needs.

Someone once said to me, the key to relationships and connecting with people is to be interested, rather than interesting. Ask your team members regularly what support they need to achieve results and to feel engaged.

#10: Ask questions.

Asking questions is a great way to achieve many of the tips mentioned. Asking any type of question is better than none, but asking good open questions are even better. Open questions (or those that can’t be answered with a yes or no response), create thinking, learning and ownership.

Here are some sample questions to help build rapport and trust:

  • How did you get involved in…?
  • What kind of challenges are you facing?
  • What’s the most important priority to you with this? Why? What other issues are important to you?
  • What would you like to see improved? How do you measure that?

Empathy is an emotional and thinking muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it. Practice these skills when you interact with people. You’ll likely appear much more caring and approachable – simply because you increase your interest in what others think, feel, and experience.

Good luck!

Leading Through Trust: Understanding