The Importance of Empathy

Before we can truly understand the concept of empathy, we need to consider emotional intelligence. Dr. Daniel Goleman breaks emotional intelligence into four components:

  1. Self-awareness – Knowing what we are feeling and why, combined with our moral compass
  2. Self-management – Handling our distressing emotions effectively and marshalling our positive emotions, aligning our passions with our actions
  3. Empathy – Understanding what others are feeling
  4. Skilled relationships – Pulling everything together, engaging, interacting and communicating

To demonstrate emotional intelligence, align your emotions to those around you and respond appropriately, demonstrating the ability to understand. Dr. Steven Covey eloquently said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood, and listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” It isn’t what you know, it’s your openness to learn that determines the competence in emotional intelligence.

So, where does empathy fit in? In its simplest form empathy may be demonstrating the ability to appreciate the perspectives of others. We clearly cannot see into other’s minds or feel their emotions, but we can listen to what is being said to us, we can consider the behavior we observe, and we can imagine what it might be like to be the other person. Does this mean we can ever be 100% accurate? Doubtful. However, by focusing on another and attempting to see things from their point of view we demonstrate empathy. This is vital when building trust and relationships.

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are interconnected. This is why the what, when and how we communicate alters the thoughts of those we converse with. Thoughts affect our feelings; feelings drive our behavior, and so the loop continues. This leads us to ask, “What do you want others to think about you, how do you want them to behave toward you and how do you want them feeling about you?” What we say, what we do and how we demonstrate our feelings is incredibly impactful.

Understand What Others Might Be Feeling

Your team and your members may be anxious, nervous, feeling insecure and uncertain about the future. They may have been asking questions like:

  1. Am I going to survive the pandemic?
  2. Will my family and friends be safe and well?
  3. What can I afford to do?
  4. What is safe for me to do?
  5. Will there continue to be a job for me?
  6. What is going to happen to the fitness industry, even after opening?
  7. How am I going to best support our customers?
  8. Will our customers, still be customers at the end of this?

They also may be thinking:

  1. This is a great opportunity for me personally and professionally to develop a new skill set.
  2. How can we leverage this situation to make things better for myself and our customers?
  3. How can I use this time to develop myself or our business to changing customer needs?
  4. What opportunity will arise next?

This is why we need to check in and demonstrate compassion. As leaders (either of a team or of members) we should be paying special attention to understanding people and adapting how we work with others. We must appreciate what is possible under the circumstances, and then create a plan together. Boundaries should be considered, particularly when it comes to safety and social distancing.

We can do this effectively by applying the following principles:

  • Demonstrate empathy consistently in every encounter
  • Ask how people are, and really listening to their response
  • Acknowledge the continued need for flexibility – things are not yet back to ‘normal’
  • Demonstrate trust and allow people to be autonomous, while ensuring they have the tools to complete the tasks at hand
  • Avoid micromanagement and think about how to help both individuals and groups
  • Coach people, rather than instructing (this allows for far more communication)
  • Work through your own emotions to find a place of calm – you have to set an example as a leader

Applying these principles allows us to better engage with our colleagues and customers. This increases our chances of re-establishing our working culture and re-energizing our members.

Showing We Care

We should encourage ourselves and others to find ‘their space’ where clear and rational thought can take place. For instance, in an environment of heightened anxiety, people not following the rules or guidelines could quickly lead to a confrontational situation. Our feelings may or may not be the feelings of those around us, as we all see things differently, the ‘truth’ is really only our truth, based upon our perspective.

When people are feeling uncertain, it is vital that we empathize with them to increase their sense of stability. Showing we care should be seen as a sign of strength. To help understand this, we may wish to hold onto the thought that we are always experiencing the emotion, we are not the emotion.

Our behaviors are representative of what we are experiencing. When we acknowledge that our behavior comes from an emotion, we can choose how and when we behave a certain way. Daniel Goleman suggests this is part of our self-management – handling our distressing emotions effectively and marshalling our positive emotions, aligning our passions with our actions.

When we manage emotions effectively it demonstrates our human side and shows how intent we are on creating stability within the situation. When we combine this with checking in with others, we can improve our interactions. We can build upon this by being interested, not interesting, and showing acknowledgement for any responses we receive. If we are able to encourage others to ‘hold their space’ and find their own calm (managing their own motivations effectively) they can reflect on their views and step out of themselves, to find their own stability.

Right now, people are feeling uncertain. If we empathize we can increase their sense of stability by showing that we genuinely care.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but, people will never forget how you made them feel…” Maya Angelou

If we can make all those around us feel safe, stable and secure then we can go a long way to re-engaging our teams.

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