If I was writing the ‘Bible of the Ideal 21st century’s Leader’, I would start it and finish it with one sentence: Leading Starts with Empathy.
Modern age corporates, new economy, old established blue chips, everyone would benefit from adding a healthy dose of: ‘I am only as good as my team is’, ‘my employees/reports are my first customers’, ‘what is the best way to make it a win/win situation?’
Empathy is both a starting and an ending point: understanding the other person’s point of view and where they are coming from, sensing their process and finally, deciding to open a door for longer and durable relationships.
But empathy can only take you so far. Perceiving what the other side feels or needs is only one part of the process. At some point, you may see yourself stuck in the interaction.
Consider experimenting with these 4 tools.
Tool 1: humility – I don’t know what I don’t know
Have you noticed what happens when you start digging deeper into a subject you’re passionate about?
More often than not, you realize that knowledge is akin a rabbit hole. It can seem shallow and manageable when seen from afar, and as you get closer and closer…
It’s the same thing whenever we enter into a transaction (i.e. a communication) with another person.
We think we know what they want, we default back to our previous experience with them.
Until we realize we may only be seeing the tip of their iceberg of wants/needs/non negotiables.
There is always more than what meets the eyes (and ears).
Humility is acknowledging that as much as we may be a sharp reader of the human nature, energy, body language, there is more to a person than what they want or would let out.
Use ‘I don’t know what I don’t know’ as your initial intention, way before the time you’re meeting.
Make it your habit to question what your brain is assuming, to clarify what you may be interpreting with the eyes and ears of your own background/personal/cultural story.
Tool 2: curiosity – I am open to hear/see another perspective
Now, you could stop there and carry on the conversation, or (better) you can choose to engage further.
- What does this person want out of this conversation?
- How can I help them?
- How can they?
When they team up, Curiosity and Humility are the real power couple of communication and personal growth.
Curiosity brings a deeper dimension to humility. It signals to your brain your intention to stretch outside your comfort zone (your knowledge, your experience, cultural habits..); it is also you implicitly telling the other party: ‘I am now ready to see you, hear you and meet you’.
Curiosity is both innate and acquired. It is a habit we need to anchor. We think that the more we know, the less we feel the need to enquire. And we wait until something happens until we decide that, ‘well, ok, you got me, there is more to it, what is it teaching me?’.
How can you use lead with curiosity without sounding intrusive? Ask open questions, clarify when you are not clear or when you observe yourself making assumptions, allow the other person to show you their boundaries (more on that later).
Tool 3: active listening – I honor the other person’s time and energy, therefore I am fully present to what they are saying
A classic for me: someone is telling me something, and all of a sudden, my brain switches off and the only thing that comes up is what I am going to reply.
And realizing later in the conversation that I missed part of it.
Active listening is a key tools for any healthy communication.
It is asking your presence to takeover the brain when it is rushing two steps ahead to reply back.
It is understanding that communication is not only about the words spoken, but also the facial expressions, the body language, the tone etc.
Everything is information.
Active listening allows you to pause and make space for both the other person to say their piece, and for your brain to integrate first the flow of the spoken and unspoken information it is receiving.
In other words: to be present to what is unfolding in the conversation, and be willing to tango with it.
Tool 4: boundaries – I honor my time and my values
People in leadership positions often believe that giving away their time, energy and attention is part of the territory.
It is true to only a certain extend.
Until you realize that your time and resources are not stretchable nor expandable.
Then start choosing where to put your attention.
It is the same when it comes to communication. Define your limits, understand the other person’s and keep yourselves accountable to respect the boundaries of the container that is this conversation.
Sure, there will be something that wasn’t planned. And part of using these tools is indeed to allow space for the unexpected to happen, without it disrupting the flow – asking clarifying questions, being genuinely curious to know more, allowing each person to affirm their needs and wants, within the limits pre-agreed.
If you were to look back at a recent interaction, how would you have done it differently, now with those 4 new tools in your toolbox?