Do you relate well to others?

Do you relate well to others personally and at work? Do you inspire, lead and motivate them well, or do you struggle in the “people” aspect of your job? It’s common for people to minimise this part but it’s crucial to things going well.

Business leaders have finally woken up to the fact that “soft skills” make a big difference to the bottom line, after years in which people have denied its importance and minimised the value of such training and coaching. Many in the Learning and Development industry will of course be thinking “told you so”, that people need to be able to relate well to others, but it must still be a cause for celebration for many that at last the truth is out in the open, and it needs all the support it can get.

It was, for example, argued in a campaign by employers that coaching and training in such areas as communication, initiative, interacting with customers and team working can make an impact to the value of £88 billion a year in increased productivity and reduced operating costs. It is said that this is particularly so in businesses that rely on “face-to-face human interaction.” An example of this relates to the field of Emotional Intelligence (EI). Research has been showing for a long time now that EI is far more important than IQ in terms of a leader’s capabilities, in the proportion of 85% for EI to 15% for IQ.

Another example is how time gets lost in needless conflict between managers and between their teams. Only when the managers have resolved their differences and found a better way of working together have results improved. Personal differences often get played out in intra-organisational issues. Another, again, is where a manager believes that to manage effectively (s)he has to be strong to the point of bullying the team, and fails to build relationships and rapport with his or her team and results through such methods as simple positive motivation and encouragement.

Key to EI is self awareness, the ability to know your own strengths and weaknesses, but built on that key foundation is self management, the ability to self manage and act appropriately, and social awareness, in particular empathy, to understand and get alongside others. Then the fourth key area comes into play, the ability to build good relationships at work.

People need to get comfortable working with emotions, whereas historically they have been viewed with suspicion by senior managers. A business that has a positive emotional climate is where people feel good to be there, where they feel connected to and supported by one another, where they feel safe to be themselves and feel confident in what they are about and where they are going, where they can be open and honest and trust one another, where they willingly collaborate to make things happen, and where their abilities are recognised and rewarded. That’s not done just by throwing money at it. It’s done by building engagement, involvement and commitment. That kind of organisation is where people relate well to others, and which has a positive emotional climate, communicates well and gets good results from its people. It is very likely well-led.

Are we losing our ability to have empathy and to connect?

We must have all done it, a gathering round the dinner table, and there’s a quiet moment as everybody is on their phones or tablets, with snippets of conversation in between. Perfectly normal, you might think: everybody is checking their phones. Except that that is what occurs a lot right through the year where people are together or alone. This world is now getting brilliantly connected. Yet do we notice any disconnect with others we’re with, our lack of attunement to others, that we don’t have empathy?

Being a big user myself but also a coach of relationship and interpersonal dynamics, I’m frequently observing what occurs in the use of the gadget in one’s hand. As the law now recognises, people can’t effectively concentrate on driving and use a mobile phone. The focus gets drawn into the latter and people miss crucial and sudden events on the road, with sometimes fatal results. When we focus on our phone, our attention is drawn away from what is occurring around us. Thus we are at best only partially present to those around us. To another, it can feel, if they are so bothered, that “the lights are on but nobody is at home”. Disconnected.

Connected but so disconnected

The “inner world” of the phone or tablet is very absorbing. It is also very addictive. It’s now reckoned that people up to the age of 18 now spend over 7 hours a day so connected. However, more concerning is the potential cost to interpersonal relationships. It has been found from social-scientific studies by Sarah Konrath that there are now 40% lower levels of empathy for the age group 25-39, that is roughly the age range of Millennials or Generation Y, than earlier age groups had, along with a corresponding rise in narcissism. It is also being suggested that people are losing the ability to cope with “doing nothing” and where we don’t have a distraction.

What empathy means

To have empathy is arguably the crucial area of development for people interpersonally, and a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. As we grow and mature, we realise more and more the need to understand and relate to others and take their needs into account. Empathy is the ability to tune into another and get a sense of where they are coming from, to gain some awareness of their perspective. Without “social awareness”, people can struggle to connect at a meaningful level and others may sense they do not really have a relationship with them in a way that fulfills.

Being connected with others is not a digital occurrence although that is one way we can communicate. What is crucial is the ability to be present and aware of another, right now, in the moment, person to person, in the room, with all our senses engaged, and with our thinking, feeling and behaviour. We hear, see, feel, smell and taste another. Psychologically we are “there” for another, available, conscious, valuing, caring. We notice what happens for another. We respond appropriately. We become attuned and resonate, and become as one.

You don’t get all that from a screen.

The challenge is that there are many who don’t have good levels of empathy. It’s a major weakness for those in business, for example. Leaders who lack empathy are poor leaders at the people level. If you are in a job where people skills matter, it can be costly. In personal relationships it is what makes for a good relationship: how often do you hear people complain that their partners are not “there” for them when they need them?

The danger is that people don’t know what they are not aware of. Thus building self awareness is an important starting point, and getting feedback from others. We can change things once we know what’s really going on, what we need to fix. And we ourselves have to take charge of it, to make the changes.

A fundamental human need is relationship. We are social beings. Being disconnected from others is a major source of unhappiness and depression.

Are you not feeling fulfilled in life?

Has it dawned on you at some point that you are not feeling fulfilled in life? It happens, to more of us than I think many of us realise. It is in relation to work that this can most show up, but it can also affect us more generally.

Yet another survey tells us in the UK that around one third of us are not feeling fulfilled in our work, particularly those in their late 30’s to mid-40’s. For those in that age range, and others, it would come as no surprise since some form of self-searching about their direction is not uncommon, and some would argue quite healthy. Of course you might just need a change of job at work, or as the survey points out, it might be about the degree of responsibility, involvement, variety and autonomy that you have.Then again, you might consider doing some more thorough-going career review and exploring how far you’ve actually moved on in yourself and need something more different.

Yet for many, it isn’t just the job but other factors that can come into play too. What people joke about as a “mid-life crisis” is often also about reaching a point in your life where the old assumptions no longer seem to apply. You aren’t necessarily so enthusiastic about your work. Your priorities and values might have changed. You might no longer have the same flexibility, perhaps now having children and and financial commitments. There is a sense around 40 that people aren’t immortal and that they want more from their lives than what’s been happening so far. It’s like there’s a realisation that there isn’t an endless life after all, and they don’t have endless time to make things work out. Other changes can come in parallel, major illness, a redundancy, changes at work affecting your role, societal changes, a relationship break-up, and so on, which can lead us to question where we’re going and what we really want. Some too might be frustrated by a conflict between what they really want and what seems possible.

The sense of not feeling fulfilled in life can spread across our lives as a whole, which is one reason perhaps why people don’t just change their jobs, but also their lifestyle, where they live, their family set-up, and other things. Many even move countries. It can be worth exploring, however, what that desire for change can be about, since you might otherwise find, after the upheaval is over, that the same problems have somehow followed you, because the real issue didn’t get addressed.

It isn’t necessarily that you need to change your job, or start a new career, and many do that, but that you do reflect on what’s really going on and devise ways to manage the situation so that the lack of fulfillment doesn’t end up costing you. The above-mentioned survey doesn’t, as published make much of career development, but it is worth pointing out that some organisations do actually invest in career development for their staff, and support them in finding ways to evaluate what they do, and to make changes if that’s what seems right. However, you can do that for yourself. Career coaching is one way of doing that and you can learn more here.

Where narcissism and unrealistic self awareness can lead to problems

It’s a much commented-upon trend, the growth of narcissism in today’s western society, part of what people call the “Me first” culture. In this article, for example, it was suggested that “the growth of narcissistic attitudes” due to a “range of trends – including parenting styles, celebrity culture, social media and access to easy credit – which allows people to appear more successful than they are“. The culture of narcissism has even contributed to the rise of narcissistic leaders such as Donald Trump.

Narcissism is associated with conceit, vanity, selfishness and egotism. Just to read those words doesn’t seem to be good. Yet the real narcissist would not even get that far, because it implies something negative about themselves that they just don’t want to know. Narcissism is also about the false self, something one convinces oneself one is but which in fact hides a lot of hidden and unresolved personal stuff. It gets a lot of comment today because of the huge emphasis in today’s culture on the individual and putting oneself “out there” as one who is important. It has almost become de rigueur to speak openly and vehemently about yourself, where you are coming from and what you want.

In a way this has been encouraged by many a keen parent, to help young people to stand up for themselves, to believe in themselves, express their emotions and assert their worth. And now it’s getting some criticism. One might almost think one can’t win!

Having realistic self awareness

So it comes as no surprise that, as in the article in the first link above, there’s also criticism of the self-esteem movement, with the implication that it doesn’t work. Yet such an assertion in the article is debatable when simply stated, since it can lead people to infer that self-esteem doesn’t matter. It does not make clearly enough the point that believing in oneself needs to be accompanied by effort, commitment and staying the path to realise one’s goals, self control. What is clear is many people make an unrealistic self-appraisal, and this is a narcissistic trait not uncommon among young people. What is key is to learn from experience and feedback from others, so that one gains a more realistic picture of one’s abilities and where exactly one needs to learn and grow in order to be really successful.

Developing real talent involves a learning, feedback and coaching process, with a more grounded sense of one’s capabilities, along with self belief, determination and effort. Self belief is then a necessary part of the process. Here’s where people learn to counter their own negative inner dialogue and work on telling themselves that they are worth it, have potential and “can do it”. Self-belief, realistic self awareness and commitment to the path all go together.

Reading the above-mentioned article will no doubt irritate many readers who know by experience that self belief does play a part in one’s success. Yet, at the same time it serves as a cautionary note about narcissism and unrealistic self-assessment. It also flags up that there’s work to be done to help restore in our culture an awareness of others, of service, of empathy, of concern for community and for the greater good of the whole. After all, as holism teaches, the whole is greater than, and different from, the sum of its parts. We can forget that at our peril.

Empathy brings you closer to others and them to you

I often find that the big blind spot in someone’s development is their lack of empathy. It can show up in various ways, like the lack of sensitivity to what is happening for another, the inability to make authentic emotional responses when someone is speaking of a personal concern, the inability to pick up on another’s perspective or even simply to assume that other people think and feel as they do.

I was very struck by it very recently in observing someone listening to another as she shared what had being going on for her. The woman went through the motions of listening, but the feedback later was that the speaker didn’t feel the person was emotionally “plugged in” to what she was speaking about. It was as though she wasn’t really “getting it” and thus the speaker had not really felt supported or really understood. It’s that experience that “the lights are on but nobody’s at home”. She made all the seemingly right noises, but it lacked a sense of connection or authenticity, what some might call “resonance”.

What is empathy?

Empathy is described as being the ability to sense how another is feeling, to pick up on and respond to someone’s unspoken concerns or feelings, or to understand the issues or concerns behind another’s feelings. It can be a feeling response and a thinking response.

It requires self awareness. It means being able to sense and understand one’s own emotional responses, a “feeling within”. Hence one can resonate with another, because one can sense it inside. Self awareness can mean also that one can discriminate between what is “mine” and what is “another’s”. Hence you don’t confuse your own stuff with another’s. You might get a reminder, but you can make the distinction. This might seem an “advanced” skill, but then when another is sharing of themselves, it won’t serve them if you get into your own stuff. Rather, that is to put it on one side, in Gestalt the rule of “époché“, like putting it in your pocket!

To get where another is coming from is to open up whole lines of communication and action that may otherwise be missed. As above, you can offer better support and be better able to offer help that is tailored more appropriately to their needs. Your communication may be more in line with where they are coming from and with their needs. People may have more trust in you. It is then easier to bring people with you, as with a leader, since what you are saying may more accurately resonate with them, or takes better account of their needs. In business it makes you a better “people manager”. In relationships it is more easy to resolve disagreements or to head them off since you say and do takes account of the other’s perspective and potentially involves or includes them.

While people may go through the motions of appearing to take account of another’s perspective, if empathy is lacking it will very likely lack authenticity and therefore credibility. To neglect empthy is to miss out on a whole world of being with others that brings people closer together and more as One.