To babies, Peek-a-Boo is much more than a game. Part of the fascination is excitement about the new (for them) concept of object permanence — the idea that objects continue to exist even when they're out of view. In Peek-a-Boo, the "object" is often Mommy or Daddy, and it certainly must be a relief to realize that "out of sight" doesn't mean "gone for good."
Belief in object permanence rests on the ability to form mental models of objects, and on the belief that the models have predictive value. Eventually, most of us also learn to make mental models of the inner experiences of other people. And that's called empathy.
Since empathy skills help to determine leadership effectiveness, improving empathy skills can make us better leaders. Here are some tips for improving your empathy skills.
- Begin with yourself
- Probably the best foundation for empathic skill is comfort with and understanding of our own inner state, especially our emotional state. Ask yourself, "How do I feel about that?"
- Reflect on events, on what else could have happened, and how you could have helped make that happen. Focus on the personal iceberg of others — that mostly-hidden hierarchy of copings, feelings, perceptions, expectations, yearnings, and ultimately the Self.
- Keep a working journal
- Since empathy skills
help to determine
improving empathy skills
can make us better leaders
- Journaling guides reflection. The writing slows your thinking, and you can review past thinking because it's recorded. Focus on incidents in which someone (possibly yourself) used (or failed to use) empathy skills. If there are people you interact with regularly, journal your interactions with them, and make conjectures about your inner state and theirs. Notice patterns. See "Working Journals," Point Lookout for July 26, 2006, for more.
- Ask open questions
- To learn about the inner state of others, ask questions that get people to open themselves to you. "What's that like?" "Tell me more about that." "What would you have liked instead?"
- Notice experts
- Notice empathy skills in others, especially those who seem to do well. Notice also how people react to them.
- Notice interruptions
- When we talk less, we learn more. Notice how other people interrupt each other. Noticing this will help reduce your own interrupting behavior, effortlessly. For more on interruptions, see "Let Me Finish, Please," Point Lookout for January 22, 2003, and "Discussus Interruptus," Point Lookout for January 29, 2003.
- Play improv games
- Some improv games actually sharpen your empathic skills. Interview someone else asking only open-ended questions. To learn to slow down, try conducting a conversation using words of one syllable only.
- Facilitating debates in which you have no stake and little expertise sharpens your observational skills, especially with respect to conversation dynamics. And you might learn to be more of a facilitator even when you do have a stake in the topic.
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For more about empathy and the uses of empathy, see "The Uses of Empathy," Point Lookout for January 4, 2006.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- The Fundamental Attribution Error
- When we try to understand the behavior of others, we often make a particularly human mistake. We tend
to attribute too much to character and disposition and too little to situation and context. When we
seek a better balance, we can adopt a more accepting view of events around us.
- Reverse Micromanagement
- Micromanagement is too familiar to too many of us. Less familiar is inappropriate interference in the
reverse direction — in the work of our supervisors or even higher in the chain. Disciplinary action
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- Social Safety Margins
- As our personal workloads increase, we endure more stress and more time pressure. Inevitably, we have
less time for the social niceties that protect us from accidentally hurting each other's feelings. When
are we most at risk of incidental harm, and what can we do about it?
- It's a Wonderful Day!
- Most knowledge workers are problem solvers. We work towards goals. We anticipate problems as best we
can, and when problems appear, we solve them. But our focus on anticipating problems can become a problem
in itself — at work and in Life.
- Some Subtleties of ad hominem Attacks
- Groups sometimes make mistakes based on faulty reasoning used in their debates. One source of faulty
reasoning is the ad hominem attack. Here are some insights that help groups recognize and avoid this
class of errors.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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