News: ‘If You Can’t Empathize with Your Employees, You’d Better Learn To’

An article published by Harvard Business Review – Author Annie McKee 16/11/1/6

Empathy—the ability to read and understand other’s emotions, needs, and thoughts—is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence and a critical leadership skill. It is what allows us to influence, inspire, and help people achieve their dreams and goals. Empathy enables us to connect with others in a real and meaningful way, which in turn makes us happier—and more effective—at work.

Many people mistakenly believe that empathy—like other emotional intelligence competencies—is something you’re born with or not. But it’s not that simple.

In fact, we all have the capacity for empathy. Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran’s studies have helped us understand that we have physical structures in our brains—called mirror neurons—that help us understand others’ experiences and feelings. When you walk into a meeting late where a heated discussion has been taking place and the hairs on your arms stand up, it’s not just that you’ve been able to read the body language in the room and recognized that a fight’s happening. Your mirror neurons are actually reflecting the feelings of the people present. You start feeling as they do—even though you just joined them and haven’t been involved in the fight.

We all know, though, that some people pick up clues well and others are clueless. They misread situations and tread on others’ feelings without awareness—or apology. Are they hopeless? Or, as people often ask me, is it possible to develop empathy? My answer is a resounding yes. Consider a leader of a large media company, who I’ll call Miguel.

He called me up—out of the blue—and said he needed my help developing his emotional intelligence. He had been a top-notch management consultant who joined a client organization. He was known as super-smart and able to figure out how to find profit and weed out waste, so he was put in a senior position in a struggling division for his first role at the company. He quickly became the “golden boy” as financial results soared. Leadership loved it and within a year he was moved to another division where he worked the same magic. After his fourth move, about seven years into his tenure, a senior manager started nosing around. Something just wasn’t right in the divisions Miguel had turned around.

To start with, this smart leader discovered, Miguel’s financial wizardry was short lived. All of the great results that he’d had achieved in each division fell apart within a year or so of his leaving the post. Looking deeper, many of the divisions he had led were actually worse off than before he worked there. Good people had quit. Teams didn’t function. The cultures were toxic. Why? Miguel had put results before relationships over and over again. People felt disrespected and angry. They’d become actively disengaged and were furious at the company for allowing Miguel to treat them as he had.

Before this all came to light, Miguel had been identified as a potential successor to the CEO. Now he was told, “Fix this or you’re gone.” This was when he called me.

Miguel realized what he’d done and that he had put results before relationships every time. In fact, when I asked him, “Do you care about people?” He responded genuinely, “No, I really don’t. I care about results.” It was clear to me—and to Miguel—that he lacked empathy, among other emotional intelligence skills. He’d been told to get better, and he said he wanted to try.

So, we created a practical, skills-building plan. I coached him on reading people. I watched him at meetings and gave him feedback. I pointed out when he was trampling people and when he made them feel valued. Over several months, he made marginal progress. But it wasn’t that hard to see that he was doing what leadership had told him he must—and very little more. Frankly, I felt that I should resign as his coach. At this rate, and with this level of interest and effort, he wasn’t going to truly improve his capacity for empathy.  Then, something happened that changed everything.

One particularly hectic Saturday Miguel was working, again, rather than spending time with his kids (as he had promised he would). Before long all hell broke out— the kids were sick of being put on the back burner and they were old enough to tell him so. It was unpleasant, to say the least, and Miguel did what he always did: he promised a fun afternoon in town and then locked himself in his office to finish his work. Things calmed down, they had fun later that day, and Miguel put the incident out of his mind.

But it wasn’t over. After the kids went to sleep, Miguel’s wife tried to explain what he was doing to the family. She tried to get him to see how fed up with being last on his list, how tired she was of dealing with the kids’ feelings of abandonment. Late that night, after hours of Miguel saying things like “How do you think this family survives? I have to work!” his wife turned to him, with sadness, and said, “I’m done. You don’t care about me. You don’t care about the kids. You’re blowing up this family.”

Miguel was shocked. Lose his family? How could that be? No!

Then it hit him like a bolt of lightning: Recently, that senior manager who had found him out had said the exact same thing his wife had, “You’re blowing up your teams.” Talk about a wake-up call.

He heard it. He realized that he had lost sight of what was most important to him—his dream of a future full of warmth and love, financial security and happiness. He knew then that to hold on to his dream he had to develop empathy for his loved ones andhis colleagues. He knew he had a long road ahead of him. But, finally, he was ready to learn and change.

First, Miguel fixed things with his family. He also had to re-learn how to stay present with his wife and kids—psychologically—by constantly reminding himself that they were, are, and will always be, his first priority. Realizing that he had a lot of catching up to do, he spent several weeks just watching what was going on at home: What did his kids laugh about? What sparked arguments? What did his wife like to watch on television and which of her friends from work did she talk with socially in the evenings? Observing others is critical component of empathy. He schooled himself on asking more questions and making fewer assumptions, too. Miguel started truly empathizing his wife and kids—seeing them–for the first time in years.

Miguel realized that what he was doing at home was exactly what he needed to do at work: check in with people to see if he truly understood what they were saying; express appreciation to his team; and slow down in meetings and be sure that people were with him. He learned to understand what was going on in people’s minds and hearts and to interpret their body language better, too. He got in touch with the fact that actually, he did like and care about his colleagues. Soon, he was more in tune with what people needed, and eventually, those around him experienced him as warmer, more approachable, and even more fun.

Getting Better at Empathy

Developing empathy requires self-awareness, self-management, patience, endurance, and lots and lots of practice but you can learn it with time and dedication. It starts with having a dream—a vision of the future that means enough for you to put in the hard work needed to change old habits. And, you need to accept how important empathy is at work–and perhaps, as in Miguel’s case, the realization of the damage done by not having it.

Here are a few simple things you can begin to do:

  1. Observe, listen, and ask questions. Pay attention to people’s body language rather than obsessing about what you’re going to say next. This can be harder than it sounds, because you have to let go of the notion that you know what’s best or have the right answer. You also need to stop assuming that you know what people were thinking and feeling—you probably don’t. And even if you are right, or partly right, there’s always more to learn if you’re quiet and curious.
  2. Avoid distractions and try to be more fully present when you are with people. This too is difficult for the simple reason that our organizations are insanely distracting. There’s always a deadline looming, a crisis to deal with, or an annoyance to put to rest. All of this takes us out of the moment and puts us into a “sky is falling” mentality. When we are in this state of mind, our bodies are poised for fight-flight—just the opposite of what we need in order to build good relationships. It is very, very tough to get out state. The only way I know to do it is through mindfulness practices like deep breathing and meditation.
  3. Stop multi-tasking. Multi-tasking is really doing more than one thing with less than your whole brain. That might be fine when you are walking and chewing gum, but it’s not ok when it comes to complex cognitive tasks or dealing with people. If you are writing an email to one person while talking with another, neither one is getting the best of you. And at least one of them knows it.

By doing these things, you set yourself up to learn and practice the deeper behaviors required for empathy—to ask people for feedback about how they perceive you rather than assuming you know; to talk about how people feel rather than dismissing people’s emotions as irrelevant or unimportant; to make them believe you see them and that you care. People want to feel loved and appreciated at work – and if you’re not giving them that, you’re not succeeding as a leader.

Original Source:

Leadership in Health and Social Care

using empathy in leadership

Using Empathy in Leadership

A multitude of skills are required and one of the most important skills is empathy. The 2015 Global Empathy Index identified that the top 10 businesses (among 160), that had effectively empathic leaders and managers generated 50% more net income per employee, than the bottom 10 businesses.

Description: This one-day course examines, in a unique, thought provoking and human way, the important role empathy plays in good leadership. Delegates will develop understanding of the psychology of emotionally focused thinking and outcomes and learn essential skills to understand and implement effective relationship focused work, underpinned with empathy and emotional development.

For testimonials of my work see: Testimonials and feedback

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Blog: Using your own personal empathy library

Often arguments against being able to empathise comes from saying that unless you have had the same experience, you do not know how another feels. And in fact when someone else says to you…’I know just how you feel’ can be met with an internal  feeling of ‘how can you?’ tumblr_m6wp0jh7ak1rw2jeco1_500The fact is none of us know how another feels exactly, more so empathy is about drawing on a similar experience that gives you an indication of what another may feel, to help you gauge what they may need: Using your own emotional reservoir to draw on a similar experience and utilising your ‘personal empathy library’.

For example, if someones long term marriage is breaking up after 40 years together and having children together, do you know exactly how they feel? You have not had that relationship, or children with that person, how can you know exactly how they feel, what it means to them?depression-symptoms-man-person-crop However most people by the time they have reached their mid twenties will have had their heart broken….oh the joys!!!

They will have, in their emotional reservoir,  and ‘personal empathy library’ memories of feeling lost maybe, scared, relieved, overwhelmed, loss of potential, or having to let go of what you had hoped it was.

That is your starting point, hooking into and connecting with your own emotional reservoir and using that emotional knowledge to imagine what the other may be feeling. Then listening…really listening to their perspective for, what I call, the emotional data, to help you get a clearer picture. Being aware of your emotion and their emotional data enables you to ‘feel’ more accurately their emotions and enables you to more effectively respond.

Neuroplasticity shows that we can strengthen our empathy circuit through practice and the great thing is that this is done even without us realising it. Every time we read a book or watch a film that engages our emotions and the human connection, we are firing those neurons in our brain and putting it through a kind of empathy workout, just like every other part of our body.

Online, you can now access an empathy library that has the top ten most inspiring empathy books and films. So if you are interested in the development and demonstration of empathy check it out. And don’t forget to use your own personal empathy library too!!


News: ‘Working for the NHS was miserable so I started dance classes on my ward’

A great article written by Paediatrician Guddi Singh, published in The Guardian Healthcare Network  on the innovative, fun and inspiring initiative implemented at the paediatric ward of Barnet hospital…Well done to all involved!

‘Things are not going well in the NHS right now. It is under sustained attack day after day; the media bad-mouths it, while the people who work for it are being asked to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources.

In my 15 years of study and training, I have watched cuts immiserate the services we can offer children and their parents all over the country. Fewer funded paediatric nurse training spots; local closures leading to clogged emergency departments; and £80bn slashed from mental health services resulting in ever more troubled young people occupying acute hospital beds, because there’s simply nowhere else for them to go.

Working in a health service under pressure – one that is low in finances, low in staff and low in morale – is hard. And things are only going to get worse. The current political climate actively pits health workers and patients against each other, the opposite of what caring relationships are supposed to look like. Under this kind of pressure, it’s not only the patients who need healing, it’s also the staff.

I felt this myself. I would see my colleagues, hungry and thirsty from lack of breaks with circles under their eyes, struggle to do their jobs. Being in hospital can be scary and alienating for sick children at the best of times – how much worse when the staff looking after them are too tired and busy even to smile?

downloadI decided to do something about it. Barnet Bopping is a pilot project I developed with colleagues that brings dance to the paediatric ward of Barnet hospital, in north London. The aim is to help patients, parents and staff feel happier, healthier, less stressed and more connected by doing physical activity together that’s mood lifting and fun.

One morning, we gathered some of the kids and staff in the playroom and I asked a friend – who happens to be a nurse on the ward – to lead a hip-hop dance class. At first it felt a bit awkward; here we were, in the middle of the working day, my colleagues and I, swaying our hips with the consultant. And in front of the parents. But with every new move, and with every song, we all got more and more into it. Before long we forgot who we were, and even where we were. It didn’t matter whether we were a doctor, nurse, patient, parent or cleaner – all that mattered was the music. By the end, the atmosphere on the ward was really, well, happy.

I noticed how things changed after that. The boundaries between the nurses and doctors were gone. People smiled more. The team communicated better. It made us all wonder why we didn’t do things like that more often.

On its own this will not fix the NHS. But it is a wasilhouettes-femmes-dansey for us, in our local general hospital, to take matters back into our own hands, to resist the destruction of our health service and try to offer the best care we can to our patients.

Wellbeing should be for all of us. Health workers operate under huge stress, all while feeling as if we aren’t really doing justice to our patients. We need take care of each other – health workers and patients alike. Whether it’s standing up for patient safety or being creative at work, we stand with our patients. Cuts or no cuts, this is the kind of spirit that hasn’t yet been crushed in the NHS.

Original source:

News: People with low oxytocin levels suffer reduced empathy

A study carried out by the University of Cardiff, found that people suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Brighton. The research is the first to study humans with reduced oxytocin and suggests that hormone replacement could improve the psychological well-being of those living with low levels.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ due to its role in human behaviours including sexual arousal, recognition, trust, anxiety and mother-infant bonding. It is produced by the hypothalamus – an area of the brain that controls mood and appetite – and stored in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ that sits in the base of the skull.

Researchers from the University of Cardiff investigated empathic behaviour in people who they suspected of having reduced oxytocin levels due to one of two medical conditions caused in response to pituitary surgery.

The study assessed 20 people with cranial diabetes insipidus (CDI). In CDI, the body has reduced levels of ADH – a chemical also produced in the hypothalamus and structurally very similar to oxytocin. They also assessed 15 people with hypopituitarism (HP), a condition in which the pituitary gland does not release enough hormones. These two patient groups were compared to a group of 20 healthy controls.

The researchers gave all participants two tasks designed to test empathy, both relating to the recognition of emotional expression. They also measured each group’s oxytocin levels and found that the 35 CDI and HP participants had slightly lower oxytocin compared to the healthy controls, though a larger sample is required to establish statistical significance. They also saw that the CDI and HP groups performed significantly worse on empathy tasks, compared to controls. In particular, CDI participants’ ability to identify expressions was predicted by their oxytocin levels – those with the lowest levels of oxytocin produced the worst performances.

“This is the first study which looks at low oxytocin as a result of medical, as opposed to psychological, disorders,” said Katie Daughters, lead researcher. “If replicated, the results from our patient groups suggest it is also important to consider medical conditions carrying a risk of low oxytocin levels.”

“Patients who have undergone pituitary surgery, and in particular those who have acquired CDI as a consequence, may present with lower oxytocin levels. This could impact on their emotional behaviour, and in turn affect their psychological well-being. Perhaps we should be considering the introduction of oxytocin level checks in these cases.”

The researchers hope to expand their study in order to further replicate and confirm their findings. This study presents only preliminary results, and it has not been peer reviewed.

Original News Source:

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