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.
This list might seem daunting, but you don't have to do them all at once. Pick one. Try it repeatedly. Notice how you're feeling about it. When you feel like it, try another. Top Next Issue
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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 Triangulation Zone
- When somebody complains to you about someone else's performance, you're entering into another dimension
— a dimension of three minds. That's the signpost up ahead — your next stop, the Triangulation
- Filtered Perceptions
- How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?
- When Change Is Hard: I
- Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use
— and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard,
what's happening? What makes change hard?
- The Problem of Work Life Balance
- When we consider the problem of work life balance, we're at a disadvantage from the start. The term
itself is part of the problem.
- Toxic Conflict in Virtual Teams: Dissociative Anonymity
- Toxic conflict in teams disrupts relationships and interferes with (or prevents) accomplishment of the
team's goals. It's difficult enough to manage toxic conflict in co-located teams, but in virtual teams,
dissociative anonymity causes toxic conflict to be both more easily triggered and more difficult to resolve.
See also Emotions at Work, Effective Communication at Work and Conflict Management for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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