To babies, Peek-a-Boo is much more than a game. Part of the fascination is excitement about the new (for them) concept of object permanence — the idea that objects continue to exist even when they're out of view. In Peek-a-Boo, the "object" is often Mommy or Daddy, and it certainly must be a relief to realize that "out of sight" doesn't mean "gone for good."
Belief in object permanence rests on the ability to form mental models of objects, and on the belief that the models have predictive value. Eventually, most of us also learn to make mental models of the inner experiences of other people. And that's called empathy.
Since empathy skills help to determine leadership effectiveness, improving empathy skills can make us better leaders. Here are some tips for improving your empathy skills.
- Begin with yourself
- Probably the best foundation for empathic skill is comfort with and understanding of our own inner state, especially our emotional state. Ask yourself, "How do I feel about that?"
- Reflect on events, on what else could have happened, and how you could have helped make that happen. Focus on the personal iceberg of others — that mostly-hidden hierarchy of copings, feelings, perceptions, expectations, yearnings, and ultimately the Self.
- Keep a working journal
- Since empathy skills
help to determine
improving empathy skills
can make us better leaders
- Journaling guides reflection. The writing slows your thinking, and you can review past thinking because it's recorded. Focus on incidents in which someone (possibly yourself) used (or failed to use) empathy skills. If there are people you interact with regularly, journal your interactions with them, and make conjectures about your inner state and theirs. Notice patterns. See "Working Journals," Point Lookout for July 26, 2006, for more.
- Ask open questions
- To learn about the inner state of others, ask questions that get people to open themselves to you. "What's that like?" "Tell me more about that." "What would you have liked instead?"
- Notice experts
- Notice empathy skills in others, especially those who seem to do well. Notice also how people react to them.
- Notice interruptions
- When we talk less, we learn more. Notice how other people interrupt each other. Noticing this will help reduce your own interrupting behavior, effortlessly. For more on interruptions, see "Let Me Finish, Please," Point Lookout for January 22, 2003, and "Discussus Interruptus," Point Lookout for January 29, 2003.
- Play improv games
- Some improv games actually sharpen your empathic skills. Interview someone else asking only open-ended questions. To learn to slow down, try conducting a conversation using words of one syllable only.
- Facilitating debates in which you have no stake and little expertise sharpens your observational skills, especially with respect to conversation dynamics. And you might learn to be more of a facilitator even when you do have a stake in the topic.
For more about empathy and the uses of empathy, see "The Uses of Empathy," Point Lookout for January 4, 2006.
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Why Dogs Wag Their Tails
- If you've ever known a particular dog at all well, you've probably been amazed at how easy it is to
guess a dog's mood, even though dogs can't speak. Perhaps what's more amazing is that it's so difficult
to guess a person's mood, even though humans can speak.
- One Cost of Split Assignments
- Sometimes management practices have unintended consequences. To reduce costs, we keep staff ranks thin,
but that leads to split assignments for those with rare skills. Here's one way split assignments can
lead to higher costs.
- Fooling Ourselves
- Humans have impressive abilities to convince themselves of things that are false. One explanation for
this behavior is the theory of cognitive dissonance.
- Scope Creep and the Planning Fallacy
- Much is known about scope creep, but it nevertheless occurs with such alarming frequency that in some
organizations, it's a certainty. Perhaps what keeps us from controlling it better is that its causes
can't be addressed with management methodology. Its causes might be, in part, psychological.
- Preventing Toxic Conflict: II
- Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence
of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each
other, we can all help prevent trouble.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
- And on May 9: Unethical Coordination
- When an internal department or an external source is charged with managing information about a large project, a conflict of interest can develop. That conflict presents opportunities for unethical behavior. What is the nature of that conflict, and what ethical breaches can occur? Available here and by RSS on May 9.
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