The emotional literacy we develop in the Detect Chair lays the foundation for the Connect Chair. The driving force here is empathy, the heart of all collaboration and civility. This chair offers the key to solving conflict whether in the boardroom, in the family or in society at large. It is the best peace pill we have.
In the Connect Chair our focus moves away from ourselves and on to other people. The overarching questions we ask in this chair are:
‘What is important for the other person?’ ‘What do they need?’
A little bit of empathy goes a long way in this world. Giving solace solves problems. The Dalai Lama says that just twenty minutes of pure empathy can cure deep-seated pain and suffering.
We are living in a hyper-individualist age driven by personal branding and social media communication where our egos are being constantly fed and relationships are valued by the number of ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ we are able to amass. This is having an effect on the ‘we’ factor of our collaboration.
We need to bring back the caring factor into our lives, and especially into our organisations. We’re moving so fast that we no longer ‘see’ one another. Without more authentic connection we seriously risk impoverishing the quality of all our relationships.
Empathy is a challenge for us. It means putting aside our own egos and giving the limelight to others. This is a fairly unintuitive and complicated act for most human beings, especially living in a VUCA world where time is pushing, stress is increasing and individualism is evermore king.
The Connect Chair is all about conscious empathy where we take our relationships to a higher level of understanding and connection. Sometimes all it requires is just a small act of attention and some care coupled with the intention to connect.
So how can we develop this more at work and at home? Some visionary companies are taking the lead. Google, for example, offers mindfulness and empathy training to its employees. In his book Reinventing Organisations, Federic Laloux tracked organisations working with a radically more productive organisational model where people work together in a powerful way by changing their belief systems. Rather than searching for the secret key to gaining market share by beating the competition and increasing profits, these organisations are eliminating power hierarchies and introducing neutral hierarchies and self-organising teams driven by high levels of trust, engagement and self-management. The people in these organisations are truly connected and valued and this is reflected in their exponential success. So much of this success depends on developing an inclusive mindset supported with a strong practice of empathy.
The Dynamics of Empathy
Although empathy is slowly coming onto the radar of organisations it is still not extensively practised or considered as a necessary skill to be trained. It tends to clash with individualistic competitiveness and ego-driven desires and behaviours and considered by some as a ‘touchy-feely’ topic, especially in cut-throat organisations interested primarily in driving results. The caveat to these beliefs is that we become emotionally tone-deaf to one another and never fully develop what really drives the success of our organisations: human relationships.
Numerous new studies now directly link the practice of empathy to increased sales and enhanced performance, especially in diverse workforces.
Empathy and Friends
There are a myriad of differing definitions that exist for ‘empathy’ but one thing is quite clear; without it, we’re in deep trouble. Dr Antonio Damasio has outlined in his book Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain that medical patients who have damage to the part of the brain associated with empathy display significant deficits in relationship skills, even though their reasoning and learning abilities remained intact.
For our own purposes with The 5 Chairs, I think it’s helpful to make a distinction between sympathy, empathy and compassion with the following definitions:
Sympathy involves expressing feelings of pity, sadness and sorrow for someone else. It is not a demonstration of understanding how the other person is feeling and what they are needing but an expression of our own emotional response towards a person, which is not necessarily shared by the person.
Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s state of mind by looking at the world through their eyes. It’s trying to understand another person’s feelings and needs so that we can respond appropriately to what they require, whilst still realising that their pain is not our own.
Compassion is to suffer with someone by demonstrating a sincere concern and feeling a strong desire to help alleviate their distress. Compassion is therefore a vital ingredient of empathy.
A simple practice in Giving Empathy
Next time someone comes to you in difficulty, try the following:
a. Take a big breath, slow down and focus.
b. Consciously recognise the opportunity you have to help another person feel better.
c. Open all channels of listening – ears, eyes, mind, heart.
d. Move into SILENT MODE.
e. BLOCK any empathy distractors.
f. Avoid FIXING the person.
g. Show your attentiveness by occasionally REFLECTING what they are saying.
h. Once the person seems complete, ask if you can help in any other way.
This simple but conscious act can create a deep level of trust between people in a short amount of time. It’s also the best way to empower people to find their own solutions.
On the subject of empowerment, I always invite leaders to stop and ask themselves the following questions whenever they are approached by their staff with requests for help.
• What do I want to do here?
• What is my intention? To fix their problem for them or help them find their own solutions and make them more independent and responsible?
Empathy is about understanding other people’s needs. Someone who learns to explore their issues and who comes up with two or three possible solutions on their own to discuss feels confident and connected. A little bit of empathy goes a long way in this world.
Follow The 5 Chairs Faebook Page for the upcoming Daily Empathy Test.