Recently I worked with a wonderful group of leaders who I was training to become in-house workplace coaches (a voluntary focus alongside their normal leadership and work duties – very cool).
As the skills of this group have been increasing, so has the depth and value and power of the conversations they are having – which inevitably leads to supporting their ‘coachees’ with real and challenging issues, often creating emotional responses in the person being supported.
This is natural, and human and useful if handled well.
One of the challenges though, is that many of the struggles of their colleagues are either shared by the coach, or of a nature that the coach’s natural and wonderful empathetic response causes them to be drawn into the emotion as well – not so useful. When we have experienced the same or similar situations in the past, we start to relive those experiences again through the present conversation.
We have been told that empathy is good, that we should seek to understand the situation of others and put ourselves in their shoes. This is sort of right.
I’d like to challenge the idea that leaders need to be empathetic.
I’d like to suggest that leaders need to focus more on being compassionate with people, rather than empathetic.
When relating to and supporting others, your personal response can take two forms: empathy or compassion. Let me explain the implications of each of these.
During an empathetic response, you emotionally absorb the feelings of others. Empathy is an amazing human capacity, essentially allowing us to literally feel the pain or joy of others. When a loved one is in trouble or pain, we have the capacity to live their lived experience, and for good reason. No empathy would lead to abandonment and loss of caring.
What an empathetic response does, however, is light up the same regions in the brain as those lighting up in the person of interest – usually pain. When others are in pain, you are then in pain, and that response inhibits your capacity to be objective, to think totally logically and to support that person in a useful way. Your capacity to be totally present to others and to the most useful way to support them is diminished whilst you deal with your own feelings, and eventually you can be drawn into the drama of the situation.
Conversely, a compassionate response is a response of kindness through objectivity. Compassion stimulates oxytocin (the trust hormone), dopamine (the reward hormone), and serotonin (anxiety reduction), leading to happiness and optimism. It’s a bit like the concept of ‘tough love’ – in order to help the most, sometimes you have to be the one to hold the line – like denying your child the opportunity to attend a party when they have been naughty – those ‘learning moments’!
Take some time this week to notice your responses to the challenging situations brought to your attention by others. Is your response empathetic (emotionally non-useful) or can you be present to supporting them from a place of useful compassion?
Have a great week.
For the fourth year in a row now I have posted this blog as a kick off to a new year.
Those who know me well know that I cannot live without my green tea; and dark chocolate, whilst attempting to reduce its influence on my life, still holds its own on my Five Essential Foods list. Having said this, I’ve been venturing into the ‘Skinny Cap’ coffee world last year, but Green Tea and Chocolate are still my go to!
I’d love you to share this idea with your network…a great way to begin the year and get focused.
Your brain has access to around 11 millions ‘bits’ of data at any one time, but can only process around 100,000. Your capacity to focus on more than one thing is quite limited. So having a theme for the year rather than a long list of goals and new year resolutions has served me well over the past few years.
The RAS (Reticular Activating System) is a useful little part of your brain that decides what data – from outside and inside your body – your brain will pay attention to.
The issue to consider is whether the choices your RAS is making are useful for you!
In the absence of any direction from you, the choices and decisions your RAS makes will be…
- random, or
- based on your past instructions or interests or random thoughts, OR
- in line with a more primitive decision-making set of instructions designed to ensure your survival.
In light of this, taking the time teach year to give my RAS the gift of a solid ‘theme’ for the year has served me well.
For example, my theme back in 2014 was ‘PROFILE’– I wanted to raise the profile of my business and my expertise to attract new clients.
What happened was three-fold:
- I started to come across (and pay attention to) more opportunities to raise or contribute to my business and professional profile.
- I was proactive in making decisions that supported that particular outcome over other potential outcomes.
- I was more likely to act on such opportunities than I would have been in the past.
As a result, I more easily achieved my business objectives than I had anticipated.
In the absence of a well-thought out ‘theme’ I would probably not have paid as much. Or any attention to the opportunities. Or I may have tended to continue to make decisions and choices similar to the previous year (stay in my comfort zone). Or I may have failed to overcome my inertia on acting on the opportunities due to a desire to protect myself from the risk of doing something new and different.
In 2017 my theme was ‘Leading Humans’. At the time I felt a passion for becoming one (a better version of myself), and for creating them, so they can in turn lead them! During the year I changed the name of my business to Leading Humans and now have an even clearer focus on where to next for me and my work.
Over the last three years, the specifics I had in mind didn’t necessarily appear precisely as intended, but something else of equal value did. It was the fact that I was on a journey and had a thematic end in mind that counted. The fact that the goal wasn’t so specific also let me off the hook so I didn’t get caught up in ‘failure’. Your word or theme also serves as decision-making criteria. Does this opportunity or focus align with my theme?
Doing new, great stuff is difficult for the human brain and requires deliberate attention and undesirable effort. So, to make this a little easier, I encourage you to take some time TODAY to start providing some guidance for your RAS this year.
Here is my SEVEN STEP process to get you started…
FIRST…take some time out and head to a café where you can indulge in coffee and cake (or green tea and dark chocolate in my case – there it is – finally the reference to the title), and a notebook or device or small whiteboard depending on your personal process for scribbling and creating!
THEN…just reflect on what you want—big picture 1/3/5 years from now, how last year went, what needs to be different, what will give you the biggest bang for your buck this year, what you don’t want to happen this year, where you want to be in December… Create a vision board of scribbles and key words—WHATEVER takes your reflection fancy. AVOID lists and lengthy prose – use bubbles and key words and pretty pictures. Do this…
SO YOU CAN…land on a series of tangible and intangible goals that excite you! Let your imagination go here…don’t hold back. You need to zoom in to some specifics before you zoom out again to find your theme (note…these goals must EXCITE you).
NOW YOU NEED TO…take a step back and consider the shift or change or ONE THING that is going to make a difference and help you to achieve these goals – what has been the barrier in the past, what has gotten in the way, or what have you failed to do enough of or well enough. Write down a few ideas and order another cupcake or dark chocolate thingy.
AND THEN…forget it all for a while… That’s enough for now. Stop thinking about it and take a few days to let your brain percolate over this. Add to your notes as ideas come. Discuss it over more coffee. Eventually, the WORD or THEME will hit you when you least expect it, and when it does…
PROCLAIM TO THE WORLD…write it, blog about it, draw it, figure out what it looks like everyday, share it with your team and discuss what it means for you and them. Immerse yourself in it, set mindful reminders to make sure it is in front of mind. Do whatever you need to do to clearly instruct your RAS that THIS IS IT FOR 2018…this is our (meaning you and your brain’s) goal, our influencing context, our foundation, our driver. Hardwire it into your RAS – then get on with your year. And finally…
TEST YOURSELF and PIVOT…At the end of a meeting or conversation ask yourself…did I engage with my theme? Set device reminders to make sure you check in and reconnect with it regularly. If things aren’t quite working out, then PIVOT – make a small change in direction or energy to keep you on track. It’s OK to let your theme evolve.
At the end of the day/month etc, diarise a green tea and dark chocolate meeting with yourself and/or your team to reflect on how your theme is going. The BIG TEST is whether the theme is influencing your professional decisions and behaviours. If not, it’s probably not the right theme, or you are not really committed to it – just interested in the idea of it! If this is the case, change it, or get off your butt and commit to it.
My word for 2018 is ‘discipline’. I’m getting focused on developing the discipline I need to do the things that need to be done to achieve the outcomes I want in both my professional and personal lives.
Good luck. I hope it works for you like it works for me.
Welcome to 2018 – a new year with new opportunities – and I look forward to supporting you on your professional and personal journey!