Empathy, Sympathy, and Pity. Besides a catchy title to a podcast, it’s three words and that have different meanings and that can get a leader tripped up and cost the leader personal credibility when they get these three confused.
The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
We covered the topic of empathy in detail on previous shows and newsletters. Empathy is certainly the strongest of the three emotions. It requires a connection to the person and the situation and will also cause you to act in a caring and compassionate way.
Empathy is the gold mine for relational leadership. It allows you to quickly build trust with others to establish great working relationships that pay off. Acting on empathy also empowers the leader to connect with the team while holding on to strong expectations and standards.
As a young leader, I was very black and white. Either you met the standard and expectation on you didn’t. I thought that when someone had clear expectations and resources to get the job done and they didn’t then, it was on them. Growing in empathy helped me to begin mastering the grey areas of leadership. It allowed me to meet them where they were and then show them a path to their own greatness.
I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t value a strong relationship with their leader where they felt valued and challenged to be their best.
An Affinity association or relationship between a person or thing where whatever affects one similarly affects the other.
Sympathy is a way to connect with others, but it usually means that the leader’s feeling is not as intense and the connection level is not as deep either.
Sympathy can get the best of leaders in a number of ways. For some leaders, sympathy leads to lowering their expectations or leading inconsistently across the team. This is especially true for leaders that aren’t balanced in their approach and are too relational in their leadership and relationship with the team. For some savvy employees, they will take advantage of this dynamic will turn you into an enabler to their inconsistent and bad behaviors.
For other leaders, they may feel sympathy, but then don’t know what to do with it. Do you ask if you can help? Do you just express it verbally and then try to awkwardly move on? I would suggest some type of action when you feel that sympathy for others. Don’t ask, because they may not feel comfortable asking for help or assistance. It can be a small gesture like a gift card to a restaurant so they don’t have to worry about cooking a meal to clearing out and covering a schedule so they have some time away.
Act on your sympathy towards others.
The feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.
The definition itself doesn’t sound too bad, but pity often comes across as condescending. You can be seen as putting yourself on a pedestal, believing that you are better than someone else or that you feel sorry for them.
The feeling of pity often leads to inaction. You see it, recognize it and then keep moving on. Take the feeling of pity and then turn it through the lens of empathy. Route the feeling through a positive and healthy approach so that the other person feels valued and cared for during your interaction with them.
Pity is a feeling and emotion which means it isn’t bad. It’s just an emotion! How you act and react to that feeling is what can give someone a negative view of your personal behavior and beliefs.
It’s important to understand the differences between these three types of feelings and what your natural reaction are to them so that you can react appropriately when the situation occurs.
People hold on to long memories of how others treated, handled, and helped them when they needed it. Grow your self-awareness around these so that you can lead others well, become a model leader for others to follow, and turn tough situations in a positive direction.
There are absolutely advantages in working from home; accessibility, a higher level of engagements, and lower costs for you personally among other things.
Working in a remote environment can be a challenge too. While Emotional Intelligence is a major differentiator in the real world, you can leverage and even grow your EQ in a remote world.
Turn the camera on
Whenever you turn on your camera you are putting a little bit of yourself out there. You are displaying vulnerability and authenticity to those that you are meeting with. This can help you and the other party build empathy with each other.
Be mindful of your background: Ideally, you want a clean and nondistracting background. Clean up the space behind you before jumping on the call. At my home studio, I have two closet doors that are in view. I always make sure that those are closed so that they aren’t a distraction. As fun as the virtual backgrounds are to use, stay in the real world if possible. They can be distracting themselves and don’t always work right.
Respect the time: In general, video calls do run shorter than an in-person meeting. Be mindful of the time and land the meeting a couple of minutes early to allow for people to close up and get ready for the next appointment.
Present yourself and your environment in a way that is positive and connects with others: We’ve all seen the joke about the guy in his underwear with a suit jacket on his video call. Put a little bit of effort into how you look to others. You don’t want to show up looking like you just got out of bed. Also, consider the impression you are giving others with your environment. You don’t want the amazing views of your condo to distract the new employee that just started at the ground level.
Lead with and master small talk
Some people hate small talk, but when it’s done with intent and with the right focus it can really add value to the relationship. Using small talk to build rapport and connection before you jump into a heavy topic can be invaluable to how the conversation goes.
Great small talk is always other-focused. Here are a couple of examples to contrast:
Before we get going, tell me how John’s baseball game went…..
Did everybody have a good weekend?
The first examples show you are being specific with the person, empathetic towards their personal life and affirms that you listen to the other person.
The second is not as strong with EQ. It’s generic and seems like you are just checking the box without a real interest in the answer. If I’m in a one-on-one I will back the conversation up if the person jumps right into the business. It shows them that they are my priority over the reason for us to being together.
Transform your small talk from an awkward silence filler to one where you learn and connect with others.
Be transparent and show authenticity
It may sometimes feel like as a leader you have to have all the answers all the time, besides, your people are looking to you for advice and guidance.
Be ok with admitting when you don’t know the answer. Your people will value your honesty and will build your trust level with others.
Acknowledge when you can’t fully connect empathically. Instead of trying to relate in an unrealistic way or turning the attention back to you, tell the person that you don’t understand the challenge that they are facing. Just being there and acknowledging the moment means a lot to people.
Use the opportunities in remote work to grow your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Grow your EQ and your impact on others will increase no matter the distance.
Someone recently asked the Reddit community why people are rude, loud and aggressive towards frontline employees in retail, food, and service industries. By far the most common answer was because they felt like it got results. You’ve likely run across this person at some point in your life and may even have this person in your work environment today.
Tips to deal with aggressive people
Give them time to cool down. If possible don’t address in the heat of the moment. Give them a chance to cool down and then talk to the person. If this is not possible, move the person to another location and then address the situation. Pull them into a hallway, a different conference room, etc to remove them from the environment that they were in.
Keep a healthy distance. Make sure that you are not violating their personal space (4ft +) when you talk to the person. Conversely, do not let the person invade your space. Step back or ask them to. Violating this space during this instance causes more non-verbal tension.
State the impact of the behavior and your expectations. Start the conversation off by stating the impact of their behavior. How has the outburst hurt productivity, working relationships, and their reputation? What is your expectation on how they should respect you and other members of the team? Stay calm and don’t fight aggression with more aggression.
Keep the spotlight on them. The person may try to shift the blame on others for their outbursts and behavior. Keep the focus on them and keep the power of the conversation.
Ask for commitment and don’t avoid conflict. Once the situation calms down, ask the person for their commitment to cease the behavior. Again state your expectations and consequences should the behavior continue. Don’t avoid conflict. You allow the behavior to go on, and passively approve of it when you fail to address it.
Other things to do
In addition to dealing with an aggressive person, there are other things you should consider as well.
Document incidents. You can do this in a number of ways, but I recommend emailing yourself and keeping a folder on it or creating an electronic copy that chronicles the behavior. With email, it will be timestamped when you send it, with an ongoing document, make sure that you include dates on individual incidents.
Cataloging these incidents will help you recall them better if asked, gives you a written trail and can help you see just how big of a problem that it is.
Involve HR. HR is there to protect your rights and to ensure that you are having a great employee experience. If the aggressor is your boss (or they aren’t addressing the issue), you may need need to reach out to a partner from the HR department.
Tips for dealing with aggressive customers
First, acknowledge their anger and perceived slight. This often catches them off guard because they are expecting an argument or fight. Next, acknowledge how you’d feel in the situation and then move quickly to resolve the problem. Be sincere and authentic during the exchange, while keeping your cool.
In-depth insight on conflict can be found in these past episodes:
The aggressor wants all of the control in the situation, even if they begin to lose control of themselves. Keep your power by being a calm, confident, and matter of fact leader. Document and involve others if needed to bring a long term solution. You are stronger than the aggressor.
The level and depth of your relationships with others is a guiding factor for your success.
As we’ve moved through each of the three previous sections of EI, you likely noticed that each built on the one before it. That is certainly the case with relationship management. Social awareness, self-management, and self-awareness feed into success here. You may see a conflict explode at work, school or home and it roots in the person’s lack of skill to navigate the relationship successfully. It’s like a computer that gets an error and locks up. Unfortunately, you can’t control, alt, delete your way out of these scenarios.
Understanding Relationship Management
Relationship management is the ability to build value-adding relationships with others. Notice that I didn’t say friendship. A person strong in this area understands and realizes the value of building relationships even with people that they don’t get along with. Unless you work in a very small people environment, you’ll likely have someone that you interact with that you don’t totally get along with.
Example of low Relationship Management
“John makes a decision about a person and that’s it. There is no changing his mind. He sees you as an ally or enemy. If he sees you as an enemy, he will let others know and will not put the effort to establish any kind of relationship. He reacts to people instead of responding to them. “
Example of high Relationship Management
“John is an artist when it comes to people. Everyone he interacts with feels valued and know that they matter. Even when John is not happy with an outcome, he communicates it in a way where you know how you missed the mark, but he’s not angry. I think I feel worse about it because I let my leader down, and I hate letting John down. He owns mistakes and is complementary to me.”
Tips to increase your Relationship Management
Back your decision up. When you make a decision, especially if you know it may not be a popular one, explain the whys behind it so that others understand where you are coming from. Also be open to listen to their concerns and be prepared to change if needed.
Be proactive with the inevitable. When you see a conversation that needs to happen inevitably, the time to connect on it is now. Time has a way to fuel the problem and it ends with you and/or the other party boiling over. I would rather take on a small problem than a work-stoppingly large problem that it morphs into later. When you have these conversations, be direct without emotional attachment and be sure to include your strengthened empathy and listening skills that you’ve picked up.
Build trust. A couple of ways to build trust in a relationship is to first be willing to accept feedback in a constructive way. When you show that you can’t take feedback well, you lose the trust of the other person and they no longer want to help you get better. The second is to own your mistakes and failures. If you are a leader you may have to own a mistake that you didn’t even make the decision on. Being willing to do the small things like apologize, say thank you and appreciation go a long way.
Acknowledge where the person is. This was an area I was really bad at before. Someone comes to you and tells you what they are going through and you do your best to quickly move on from the conversation. It may be because it makes you uncomfortable or you don’t know what to say. Simply acknowledging the emotion or struggle is a great starting point.
Combine your relationship management skills along with social awareness, self-management, and self-awareness to bring your career (and personal life) to new satisfying heights.
The ability to read a room is just as important as the ability to read a book.
Social awareness is all about that guy. You know the one. He is the person that just misses everything that’s going on around them in a conversation. It’s as if they are in a totally different meeting yet they are sitting right beside you. They are usually to themselves too much or linger around too long. Luckily this is a skill that we can impact and influence.
Understanding Social Awareness
Social awareness is the ability to see someone’s emotions and understand what is really going on in the conversation. Have you ever walked away from a meeting or conversation to later find out that the true meaning of what was communicated was not at all what you took away from it? Social awareness is the skill to see all those things while you are in it at the moment. You are contributing and correctly accessing as things unfold. It’s one thing to analyze a conversation from afar than it is being right in the middle of the conversation. Social awareness helps you to stay sharp in your surroundings.
Example of low Social Awareness
“Well, a big thing is that John needs to listen to what’s going on in meetings instead of thinking about what he is going to say. He’s dismissive of others if it’s a different perspective or idea from his own. He gets so caught up in his own thoughts that he doesn’t notice the nonverbals going on around him. Sometimes he’s not very social and other times he lingers too long.”
Example of high Social Awareness
“John is a great active listener. You can just tell that his mind is not somewhere else when he is with you. He can pick up on the emotional undercurrent in meetings and conversations and addresses those in a way that is both respectful and load lifting. He’s very good at understanding what’s going on around him.”
Tips to increase your Social Awareness
Watch for the non-verbals. A person needing stronger social awareness may come across as awkward or out of touch. This is because they often miss the non-verbal social cues. Watch for body language cues that the person is ready to move on from the topic or conversation. Continuing to make your point no longer adds any value and hurts relationships with enough repetition.
Work on your listening skills. Another key area to a victory in social awareness is great active listening skills. Remove all the distractions in your mind and focus strictly on just listening to the other person. Don’t worry about formulating your response here. Show the person that you are listening through your non-verbals and confirmation or clarification on key points that they make. (More help on listening can be found in Passing the Baton Leadership Podcast #60 Listening.)
Feel the mood. To navigate a social setting well, you need to understand the feel of the room well. If its high energy, you don’t need to come in like an Eeyore. If it’s a serious business meeting or personal matter, you may want to leave the jokes at the door. Your demeanor and communication should match up to the feel.
Be fully in the moment. Make sure that you are fully there physically, mentally and emotionally in the conversation. That may mean to pack up the laptop and put away the phone so that it’s not a distraction. It may mean not taking extensive notes in a meeting. Do what needs to be done to ensure that you are fully in the moment with the person. Many people miss things because they have their head in a computer or their face glued to a screen.
Great social awareness makes your meetings more enjoyable, your conversations more valuable and your reputation stronger.
By constant self-discipline and self-control, you can develop greatness of character. -Grenville Kleiser.
Spotting a person with low self-management skills is easy in the workplace. They typically have outbursts, let their emotions run them down and in short become their own worst enemy. You may see this person (or be this person) and think that there is no hope. The good news is that is quite achievable if we focus on this area along with our self-awareness from last week.
Self-management is all about how you act, react or take no action at all. This piece is heavily dependant on self-awareness because you need to understand yourself and your triggers to be able to manage them well. The first step is the ability to control your reactions to tough, challenging and annoying moments. The challenge is working this into a long-term mindset. It’s easy to see you need to control yourself when someone drops a gallon of milk on the floor. It’s not as easy to understand that blowing up in a meeting may cost you the personal equity you need to push a project through six months from now.
Example of low Self-Management
“John is quick, harsh and too much to the point. I wish he’d take some time to gather himself when things get stressful. He vents…. a lot. John also has a hard time letting other people win or acknowledging their contributions over this own. It’s not that he doesn’t care about his team. He does. He lets his emotions fully control how he leads.”
Example of high Self-Management
“John is in one word professional. He shows so much patience and empathy with everyone that he deals with. It really shows when I can see how he deals with ones that I know annoy him. He keeps a high standard, but handles his people with care and respect no matter the circumstance.”
Tips to increase your Self-Management
Find someone not invested in the problem. Sometimes we can get caught up in a cycle of our own emotions and negativity. It’s helpful to take the scenario or situation to someone you trust that’s not invested in the problem. They aren’t inherently attached to a thought or idea and can help guide you as you make your decision. Just make sure that the person is truly neutral and doesn’t show a biased to your decision just because it’s coming from you. (Those are called enablers.)
Find a skilled mentor or advisor. This is a great area where pairing up with someone who is strong in this area can benefit you greatly. They likely have little secrets and tips that they themselves use as they navigate those moments. They didn’t magically become a shining example of self-restraint. They use a toolbox that they created to ensure their success. Take their toolbox.
Add some space. This can be a small space of doing math in your head or counting to 10 when you feel yourself getting angry. You might need a larger space which translates into a better sleep habit or some time off from work. Add the space needed as the situation warrants.
Learn from everyone you meet. This has been a key to my personal growth as I continue to strengthen this area. Observe those you come in contact and notice how they handle themselves in tough and challenging situations. I learned from both ends of the spectrum. I try to emulate those that show restraint and stay focused in a conversation. I also try to get an understanding of how the person is able to accomplish that piece. On the flip side, I look to learn about the whys when a person can’t control themselves, take a mental picture of the behavior and then look to avoid that same behavior.
Good self-management allows you the opportunity to be heard, respected and gives you the chance to build trust and relationships.