The downside of empathy

Oct 08, 2020

Bob comes into your office looking flustered. He spends 25 minutes ranting about an exchange he had with a supplier. The supplier was rude, aggressive, disrespectful of the company and performance. He’s not coming back but is going to make sure everyone else hears his grievance. Bob leaves and straight away you pick up the phone to the supplier……

Does that sound familiar? Peel back that scenario, what did you react to? Bob’s emotions or the objective facts that were presented? As leaders, we’re often thrown into situations by our team where we react first, think second.
Let’s be honest. At times it feels like you’re so busy getting caught up in other people’s priorities that you cannot get to your own.
In previous episodes, we’ve described empathy as a super power – leveraging trust to improve performance. There is a downside to empathy, and that can give it a bad name.
Here’s what to watch out for and what you can do to protect yourself. But first, it’s time to get clear about definition. Empathy is about understanding and sharing people’s feelings, its about matching their energy. It isn’t just a mental state, it’s an emotional state. We all do it to some extent, whether consciously or unconsciously.
It can be a great gift – it’s a great social skill. People like people who like them after all.
It can aid learning, cultivating interest to understand the world at a much deeper level.
It can make you a great listener and counsellor. People will trust you with their secrets.
But, unchecked it can bring downsides. In our story Bob passed all of his anger over to you and you had to deal with it. In other situations you leave a conversation feeling like your energy has been sucked out of you. What are your options?
You could blame Bob – he’s a hothead. It’s his fault your day was trashed.
That will take you so far but still makes you out to be a victim.
One of my favourite energy hacks to use here is to create a force field around you.
Let’s have a play with that in a bit more detail. Imagine that there is a force field all about you. Inside that force field it’s all about you - your state, your intention, your ambition. Everything outside belongs to everyone else.
There is only one rule. You are in charge of the controls. You are the Captain. This is your bridge.
You can adjust that force field; make it big or small, bring in colours, make it a physical force field in your mind. You can soften the edges if you want to let someone else’s energy in. You can look out from the bridge and you can observe and feel that energy but you don’t have to be it. You can turn the dial to change it whenever you want, even when you’re in the thick of it. No matter what you are in control.
Try it out! Next time Bob stomps in, or when your mother-in-law calls……..
Every week, we’ll be sending a new topic linked back to honing those billionaire mindset skills: big picture thinking, relentless laser focus, risk taking, leadership and exceptional decision making. If you want to explore and develop your skills in yourself or your team get in touch to book a discovery call.

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