Listen, respond and show “emotional awareness,” a CEO coach and an acting coach tell Moneyish
The ratings are in for President Trump’s trip to survey hurricane-ravaged Texas: heavy on enthusiasm, low on empathy.
The President — who spoke words of encouragement to victims and marveled at nature’s might after Tropical Storm Harvey thrashed the Lone Star State — did not meet with victims, mention the numerous fatalities or tour the most disaster-ravaged parts of the state. While he struck an optimistic note in front of some Trump supporters in the state (“I love you, you are special, we’re here to take care of you. It’s going well,” he said, per a pool report), critics from both sides of the political spectrum noticed something missing.
“Reporters heard no mention of the dead, dying or displaced Texans and no expression of sympathy for them,” the Dallas Morning News reporter on pool duty recounted. “The message was services are coming and Texans will be OK.”
Trump tried again Wednesday morning, writing, “After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey,my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!” But critics again pointed out he hadn’t met with the storm’s victims.
“Research shows that EQ, or your emotional quotient, is more important than IQ, your intelligence quotient, the higher up the chain you go,” Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach and writer for Harvard Business Review, told Moneyish. “The more people you lead, the more it’s important for you to be involved with qualities of emotional intelligence.”
“Empathy is vitally important … because it connects you to people, and because as a leader you want followers,” she added. “Empathy is about giving the person the space to describe their experience, and validating it as their experience.”
So how does a leader show empathy?
First off, avoid “me too”-ing, said Nawaz, using an upset employee passed over for a promotion as an example. Relating your own personal story of having missed out on a promotion, Nawaz said, is both “hijacking the story from that person’s experience” and risking “preaching to them or over-explaining something.” “They probably didn’t ask you for advice on how to deal with the disappointment of not getting promoted — they just want to vent or just need the space to process what they’re feeling at the moment.”
Don’t talk too much. “Keep what you’re saying fairly short,” Nawaz said. “Give them the space to guide you to what’s helpful for them. And that might just be holding the silence and listening, not doing anything else.”
Don’t offer the person a consolation prize. “Let’s say a friend is talking to you and saying, ‘I’m really bummed I didn’t get a promotion.’ Empathy in that case would not be, ‘Well, at least you have a job’ … They know that,” she said. “It’s about saying, ‘Gosh, I hear that you’re bummed about not getting a promotion. How does that feel to you? Or what would be helpful for you right now?’”
Practice empathic listening. If you have trouble showing empathy, JoAnna Beckson, a New York-based acting coach whose alumni include Darren Aronofsky and Dave Chappelle, suggests the acting technique of personalization. “Put yourself in another person’s shoes,” Beckson told Moneyish — by really listening to, and trying to understand, what their troubles are.
“If you’re really listening empathically, if you’re listening emotionally to another person, you don’t react. You respond,” Beckson said. “You don’t say, ‘Are you OK?’ They’re obviously not OK. You probably feel uncomfortable because this person’s very upset in public and you don’t know what to do.”
Instead, she said, “just be with them” and “don’t try to change it.” Put your arm around the person and grieve with him or her; ask if there’s anything you can do to help; say you’re sorry. “Be uncomfortable in the moment with them,” she said. “That’s the emotional awareness.”
She harks back to former President Bill Clinton, who famously told AIDS activist Bob Rafsky in 1992, “I feel your pain.” “It seemed to work for him as an empathic leader,” Beckson said. “Whether it was authentic or not, I don’t know. But it seems to work for him.”
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