Can you slip yourself into someone else’s stilettos or wingtips? If you find it easy to guess what someone else might be feeling, you have a huge advantage.
I was coaching a bright, funny Creative Director that hated the way she presented creative work to the Board. She got very formal, didn’t use her humour and felt they were judging every word. She said she worried she’d develop instant Tourettes and they’d never let her back in the room.
We set up an imaginary presentation where she sat in the client’s chair and tried to sense what they felt.
She’s great at visualizing, so imagined they’d be interested and curious. They’d hope it would be a fun and entertaining break from their stress filled meetings.
Sitting in their chair, she had no sense that they’d be judging her, but that they’d love it if she could make them laugh. She decided they’d be much more forgiving of a mistake or naughty adjective, made with enthusiasm, than she’d imagined.
So what the heck is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and anticipate the behaviour of others.
The benefit of developing this skill is two fold. First, it allows you to glimpse what someone might be feeling, what they might need and how you can help.
Secondly, it changes your perspective. It moves you away from that self-conscious position of how you are being perceived. We often feel all eyes are on us and forget how to move to a more realistic perspective of our place in the discussion.
I worked with one young exec who was invited to a senior meeting where several agencies had joined to discuss a project for their mutual client. She was the most junior person in the room and totally lost her confidence. She slid her chair back so she was out of the line of sight and kept her head tucked in her notebook scribbling furiously.
Again, we arranged the chairs to reproduce the meeting and she sat in the leader’s chair. Her view, from his perspective, wasn’t what she wanted. She felt she wasn’t even on his radar. One glance in her direction would have told him she wasn’t going to join the conversation, that she had nothing to add and wasn’t worth drawing out.
She’d spent that whole meeting feeling anxious, only to realize no one noticed her. She decided, on the spot, to pull up to the table, look at the speakers and join in. She also realized he was probably looking for support, trying to get all the agencies to agree and she missed an opportunity to help him out.
Jump in to their shoes
When you begin to imagine what that other person is experiencing, you get out of your own head. Think about what might be making them uncomfortable or nervous. Think about where they might want support or encouragement. Think about how you’d feel if you were standing at the front of the room presenting.
And if you are at the front of the room
It still isn’t all about you. I recently had a Manager that worried he was boring his team. There was always someone who seemed uninterested or anxious at his monthly meetings. We listed all the things that could be going on in that person’s head; worry about deadlines, anxiety about picking up the kids, or perhaps a very real need for a bathroom break. It became clear that even if he was sharing the secret for the elixir of life he was bound to lose some people’s attention.
Work on your empathy and it will give you an instant boost of confidence, and it’s just right there… in their shoes.
To check your Empathy level’s now, check out Glenn Rowe’s quick quiz
Jot a note in the box below about the best experience you’ve had putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
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