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How to care
There is an old proverb that has versions in several different cultures:
“Don't judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.”
Some people intuitively read body language and just know what someone is feeling without that person having to say a word.
I am NOT one of these people. I notice muscle movements as a mechanical function, but often I have to think about them in order to infer an emotional meaning, and even then, I might not come to an accurate assessment of the other person’s emotional state.
If I wrote empathy off as “I’m no good at it, so I’m going to assume it’s not very important” then I would not be a very good leader. So, I use an “intellectual empathy” to improve my skills.
This can be a useful tool for many leaders:
Start by assuming that the emotional reaction that someone is having is a VALID AND APPROPRIATE RESPONSE from their perspective. This may be a mindset shift, and it helps us validate other people and show respect for their experience. Never tell someone “Stop having those feelings in here; we have work to do!” Their feelings are real; they are experiencing them. It’s like saying, “Ignore the fact that the next cubical over is on fire; open up that document and make the changes I told you to do.”
Second, consider what that perspective is. WHY are they angry or hurt or frightened? Are you suggesting something that impacts them in a bad way, like telling them to work over the weekend? Ideally, pre-think the concerns someone might have with a proposed change, request, or piece of information, and find ways to include the solutions to those issues when you discuss them. This is where the “walk a mile in their shoes” concept comes into play—how would YOU feel on the other side of that conversation?
Third, “remember to care.” When planning things out, include the “people coefficient” in your analyses. Remind yourself to look for nonverbal cues. Remind yourself to think about their point-of-view.
People want to follow a leader who respects them as people and considers their concerns. Build your skills and make the extra effort, and your people will be happier, more motivated, and loyal.