Emotional Intelligence is how we show up for us. Empathy is how we show up with others. It’s our capacity to care without interference. While they are not interchangeable terms, they also are not mutually exclusive. Someone can have little or no self-awareness and be strong at empathy.
The self-awareness to recognize what emotions we have and what causes them is the beginning of how to get what we want. Really though, our own awareness only gets us so far. It takes understanding the emotions of others and what causes their emotions to connect. When move toward understanding each other on a level deeper than feelings, it becomes possible to work together and get what we want … in a way that supports and gives the other person what they want too.
We’re going to explore this train of thought with regard to the related concepts of empathy and courage, and their combined impact on our career and business lives.
Giving / Taking Criticism with Empathy and Courage
Being on the receiving end of constructive criticism should be an expected part of business, whether one is owner or employee. Yet criticism is a charged word … so we avoid it. That’s a problem.
Why? Perhaps because words can trigger emotion, and if we are surprised by someone’s comments (i.e. unsolicited feedback) the results can be unpleasant. Yet feelings are separate from function. Provided we want to truly be effective in business, we have to learn to frame our responses to criticism when offering or accepting. So, what to do?
First, be aware. Circumspection in either circumstance (giving or receiving) will enable one to discern the purpose of the criticism. Is it with regards to the clarity of overall business goals and mission? Or does it pertain to the team clearly understanding their roles on a particular project? Or is it the punctuality and focus of a particular employee?
Second, notice reactions on both sides – yours and the other individual(s). Are they crossing their arms? Stiffening their posture? Are you feeling put upon, frustrated? Unfairly singled out? Most important, if you can recognize without reaction – something that can certainly take the utmost courage, especially if the subject is sensitive – then you can control and direct your response, and determine how to effectively engage with empathy, without devolving into an accusatory mode.
Awareness, purpose, recognizing without reaction: all these actions engender the courage to take (and constructively apply) criticism, and offer it to others with empathy.
Leading and Making Mistakes with Courage (and Having Empathy with Others Doing the Same)
What could be more important than pushing ourselves as business owners and leading by example through our actions? To be an example from which others can learn and emulate.
Well, that can be a scary prospect. What if I stumble? What if I make a mistake? What if I fail? What will others think of me?
Overcoming such misgivings is the very definition of courage. Get started by creating a construct of safety. Literally, a mental safe space in which you can determine the absolute worst work-related mishap you can imagine. Work back from there: how would you handle yourself? What direction would you make in the face of such an error? What would you do differently in the future?
If you can imagine yourself working your way through the absolute worst-case-scenario gaffe, then you can face the uncertainty of making leadership decisions on a daily basis with courage and grace. (And it always helps to empathize with the fact that others are going through the exact same thing, every day of their professional lives.) Exhibit strength in the midst of challenges that come by making decisions to take business in new, different and unknown directions.
Recognizing boundaries is a hallmark of strength too! Sticking to agreements made with peers, coworkers or employees will show others you are serious in your commitments … and will have the extra added benefit of mitigating possible mistakes.
In the end, as business leaders we can pit ourselves against each other or collaborate with and help one another. The former is a regressive and cynical attitude. The latter takes courage and empathy in leadership: recognizing what we can control and what we can do that is right to keep people moving the same direction, on the same goals.
Courage to Toss Old Habits and Employ New Ones Beneficial for Business Health (and Our Own Too!)
So how long has business been running on autopilot? Do we even give our daily routines a second thought if nothing is amiss?
Well, maybe that is exactly the time to have the courage to question normal habits: when we’re happy and content that nothing is going awry! Conscious action is required to recognize and make a choice to change – or not. To know if the business machinery running actually smooth or deceptively smooth.
Change can be enjoyable. Change can benefit health. Change can encourage empathy and teamwork!
We can make a conscious decision to view business routine modification as a fun, useful intellectual challenge rather than as a time-sucking drag. Mulling over different avenues through which to promote the product/service … a new system for calculating business expenses … a novel way to determine who on the team will be covering what aspect of an impending project.
Always consider the pros and cons of a prospective change. Meditate (literally!) on the possible consequences. Consider (i.e. have empathy for) coworkers or employees who the changes will impact most. Even better – get them involved in the process too!
And if the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of said alteration … have the courage to recognize that outcome too, and set the plan aside! Remember, in business we truly do lead by example.
Mindset of Courage and Empathy
We are all courageous and capable of empathy in our own way. Consciously pursue self-aware, daily acts of business courage; be ready to show up for others in the work world with empathy! We will be the leader others look to, and in so doing will exceed the limits of our professional plans.
To explore these ideas further, listen to these Voice of Bold Business broadcasts: