Empathy is a competency that allows you to read people…This isn’t as easy as it seems. Sometimes, the smartest resisters often look like supporters, but they’re not supportive at all. They’re smart, sneaky idea-killers.
Carefully reading people will help you understand the major, and often hidden, conflicts in the group. Hint: These conflicts probably have nothing to do with the topics or decisions being made at the meeting. It is far more likely to be linked to very human dynamics like who is allowed to influence whom: headquarters vs. the field; expats vs. local nationals; and power dynamics between men and women, and among people of various races.
Empathy lets you “see” and manage these power dynamics. Many of us would like to think that these dynamics — and office politics, in general — are beneath us, unimportant, or just for those Machiavellian folks we all dislike. Realistically, though, power is hugely important in groups because it is the real currency in most organizations. And it plays out in meetings. Learning to read how the flow of power is moving and shifting can help you lead the meeting — and everything else.
The ability to walk in other people’s shoes, to understand their perspectives (not just rationally, but also emotionally) begins with self-awareness. If you’re not sure where you fit on the Empathy-scale, Lou Solomon, author of Say Something Real, suggests asking yourself the following:
- Are you keeping the small, inconvenient promises that fall outside of the spotlight?
- Do you invite others into the spotlight?
- Do you isolate yourself in the decision-making process? Do the decisions you’re making reflect what you truly value?
- Do you admit your mistakes?
- Are you the same person at work, at home and in the spotlight?
- Do you tell yourself there are exceptions or different rules for people like you?
To truly breath life into your organization and dramatically improve your chances of success, you must be present, aware and empathetic. Meeting people where they are instead of assuming that’s where you are.