Human Touch – Empathy
As part of my research for this week’s blog, I discovered that there is a ‘body swap’ genre for movies. Who would have guessed that there would be an entire genre for such things? ‘Body swap movies’ are those in which the person swaps their body, and therefore life, with another – normally with funny consequences and/or a life changing reflective moment for all involved. Famous movies that fit this genre are:
· Freaky Friday – Mum (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Lindsay Lohan) swap places after eating a magical fortune cookie.
· 17 Again Matthew Perry as a middle-aged man is transformed into his teenage self after falling into a mystical whirlpool. Zac Efron plays the younger Mike O'Donnell as he attempts to recapture his youth and have fun.
· Big. This is one of my favourite films. After wishing to be ‘big’ at a magical fairground machine, a boy is transformed overnight into an adult (played by Tom Hanks).
In a slight variation from the genre, you could equally say that this film has some life swapping:
· Trading places - The film tells the story of an upper-class commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a poor street hustler (Eddie Murphy) whose lives cross when they are unwittingly made the subject of an elaborate bet to test how each man will perform when their life circumstances are swapped.
Each of these movies depicts the funny side of what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Freaky Friday is particularly useful as we reflect on our topic today of ‘empathy’, as they had to experience what it was like to live as someone that they knew. The result of this was a much greater understanding of one another when they returned to their real bodies.
This series of blogs highlights the real benefit of emotionally intelligent leadership, and empathy is the third of the four key ingredients that help us build authentic and deep connections with those that we lead:
· The extra mile
Empathy is your ability to understand someone else’s thoughts and emotions. It’s always been understood that empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, as in this situation you are better able to see things from their perspective and feel as they do. So, what are the benefits of empathy, this metaphorical body swap. How can it help us in leadership? What is the flip side of the coin that we need to be aware of?
In coaching, there is an activity we can use to help people get a deeper understanding of someone else’s perspective. It is called the ‘Meta Mirror’ and the activity involves physically changing seats and answering questions pretending you are the other person. This enables people to:
· Understand the experience of the other person
· See a different perspective or position to their own
· Understand the emotions of the other person and what is important to them
· Help them help others
· Place value on others by truly seeing them and what they experience
Help us in leadership
You may think that this is all well and good to understand people and see a perspective, but what does it bring in leadership?
Seeing a different perspective allows us to see a perspective we may not have seen. When we know what the issues are for people, we can then communicate to the heart of the issue. We can save ourselves time and energy by only talking about the things that are really needed to engage them because we know what is truly needed.
Understanding the emotions of the other person places value on them and, in turn, helps us to build connection as well as to know what to say and what not to say as we try to work with them. This can avoid or reduce emotional reactions.
Understanding where people come from allows us to build rapport. They feel valued by us; there is a connection and in response, they want to connect with us. Taking people with you is key for leading others.
Flip side of the coin
Empathy is a real gift. It is a superpower but, like many superpowers, it can have a flip side to it. If superman has x-ray vision, he may see things he doesn’t want to see. With empathy, we have strong feelings and feelings mean that they can be bruised as we feel for people. We feel their pain. In my coaching with leaders, we often come across situations that have particularly struck the leader and linger or are more painful. This is something to bear in mind as you lead with empathy, and lead empathetic people.
Empathy can be illuminating. So, try today to focus on empathy and see the impact it has on leading others and taking them with you on your journey, and also in giving you more clarity on the situation.
Can we help you?
How is your ability to empathise? We can help you develop it. We have some coaching techniques that will really help you understand the situation and the people involved. Give us a call on 01449 710438 if you would like us to help you explore this and empower you.
Everyday Leader is here to empower, inspire and equip you. If we can help you find a way forward, through coaching, training or consultancy, do let us know. Contact us now: firstname.lastname@example.org