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Empathy: Developing Your People Skills to Understand Others

Empathy: Developing Your People Skills to Understand Others

“Susan is a great lawyer, but her ‘people’ skills hold her back. I can’t see how she’ll ever be promoted unless she does something about it.”

Many of us know people who have reached a certain point in their careers because of their expertise and excellent technical skills, but their people skills are holding them back and everyone knows it. Maybe they are insensitive and because of this co-workers avoid them, maybe they don’t listen well or have little patience for how others approach their work. Do you have colleagues like Susan?

According to three separate research projects by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Stanford Research Institute:

 85% business success rests on people skills

15% Technical / other abilities

Isn’t that motivation enough to invest in developing “people skills?

Employees without strong people skills can often find themselves in the middle of unnecessary conflict. This can be exhausting and stressful for everyone, and it can destroy even the best of intentions and plans. Most of us are confident we can develop new technical skills and knowledge and we do so each day. However, there’s a common belief that “you are how you are” when it comes to people skills and that there’s little you can do to change these.

Fortunately, this is not true.

Based on 30+ years of research and my 20+ years of real world experience I believe we are all unique individuals who bring certain natural Strengths to the table and if we focus on those Strengths, understand them better, purposely use them and look for opportunities to grow in those areas, then we can grow at an accelerated rate and we provide our “greatest value” to the world and our teams.  This approach alone accelerates our “people skills” tremendously and it feels so natural because it is who we authentically are. Beyond that we can learn through, coaching and mentoring, other teachable people skills to elevate both our success and enjoyment in our work.

One such skill is empathy.

What Is Empathy? Empathy is simply recognizing emotions in others, and being able to “put yourself in another person’s shoes.” Understanding the other person’s perspective and reality. To be empathic, you have to think beyond yourself and your own concerns. Once you see beyond your own world, you’ll realize that there’s so much to understand and appreciate!

Years ago when I was a sales leader at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals our then CEO would talk about the importance of empathy as a leadership skill. How he had learned it over time and how much better it made him as a leader including his ability to communicate with different areas the organization, across the globe and his ability to influence the board and investors.

Like more people skills empathy can be learned. It may never be your strongest people skill but it can be a de-railer for you if is not there.

A client of Churchill’s gave us a great example how he took what he learned from his previous role as COO in a “turn around” organization into his new role as President of another “turnaround.” His learning was simple yet powerful. He took the first week in his new role to get out with the various teams and ask them simple questions so that he could better understand a broader perspective. The hardest part may have been getting out for that much time, away from meetings etc. However, in doing so he committed himself to actively listen to and understand how people were feeling, without judgment or making promises. The result was he was able to make better decisions and while he was unable to please everyone in those decisions he gained respect for being willing to understand their perspective. The turnaround was more successful because of this commitment to empathy.

6 ways you can use empathy more effectively:

  1. Put aside your viewpoint, and try to see things from the other person’s point of view.  It helps you realize the intent and thinking of others (rarely unkind or unreasonable). You will see why they are reacting as they are.
  2. Validate the other person’s perspective. Once you observe “why” others believe what they believe, acknowledge it. Acknowledgment does not always equal agreement. You can accept and understand that people have different opinions from your own. Doing this allows people to feel heard.
  3. Be honest with yourself about your intent. Are you more concerned with getting your way or being right? Or are you smarter to find a win-win solution, build relationships, and win the war? Without an open mind and attitude, you will suffocate your empathy and results.
  4. Listen.  Listen to the entire message the other person is trying to communicate. The best advice I was given as a young salesperson: “Use your ears and mouth in the proportion God gave you.”
    – Listen with your ears – what is being said and tone used?
    – Listen with your eyes – what body language is being used while speaking?
    – Listen with your gut – what are you sensing?
    – Listen with your heart – what is the person feeling?
  5. Respond positively.  Encourage rather than disagree wherever you can. Be flexible, there is more than one way to get to an outcome and maybe your way is not the best.
  6. Ask what the other person would do.  A simple way to understand the other person is to ask. However for some reason we try and make life far too complicated. We assume too often and suffer the consequences.

Our intent is that this leadership development article slows you down in your very busy day to think about areas where you can accelerate your impact. We strive t provide you usable tips and solutions you can implement straight way.

If we can help you further please do not hesitate to contact us.

Jayne Jenkins,  Founder www.Churchill Leadership

Churchill Leadership Group increases leadership and team effectiveness and employee engagement in organizations like yours. Companies hire our experts for leadership coaching and consulting and to facilitate developmental workshops and to deliver inspirational talks. We motivate and increase the employee engagement, productivity and the effectiveness of your leaders and teams in a Strength-based sustainable way that you can continue for the long term. Our Strengths approach has shown to cause 56% higher success rate on customer loyalty
, 44% higher success in employee retention
, 50% higher success rate in productivity (Gallup 2002 Meta.). 

 Churchill’s current clients include eBay, Paypal, EA Sports, Nestle, AstraZeneca, Starwood, Nickelodeon, PWC, Edward Jones and Wood Group among others.