I am coaching at Girls in Tech this month. I can’t wait. I love coaching women – they are open, warm, honest and intuitive. They have a harder time than men: judged for their looks, for being too masculine, too feminine I find they often hide their physicality and therefore their presence in the room. This diminishes who they are. However, when they find their presence, their physicality and are unashamed of it, they discover their voice. When they start to do this they discover the wonderful power of vulnerability. This is when their empathy and compassion naturally oozes out of them.
I find it is not so easy for us men. We try to listen, we try to get people’s problems, but often so we can fix them. If we can’t fix them, we do what Brené Brown, in her book “I thought it was me” brilliantly describes as “Atleasting” them … “You’ve got a broken leg, at least you’ve got a leg … You’ve been upset by your Mum, atleast your Mum is alive … You’ve had a crappy day at the office, at least you have a job” …. We can’t just sit there and listen, we feel we have to have the answer. Why is that? Now my wife intuitively knows the answer to every problem I bring to her anyway, whether it is business or dealing with a toddler. She doesn’t “Atleast me” and she knows much better than to try and fix me. She listens to me, she lets me rant, she shows genuine concern for my feelings – in other words she shows Empathy.
If I didn’t have empathy towards my clients’ fears of being judged for telling their stories and opening themselves up, I would be a rubbish coach. I might know all the story-telling techniques in the book, but I am not hired for my tick-list knowledge. I am hired to know intuitively what my clients need and to guide them to a place of vulnerability and power in how they tell their stories. It is the most rewarding and challenging job. Actually, the job starts at home – over the dishes, over the homework for my six year old boy, over the breakfast table. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, so the saying goes. What my heart and mouth are doing at 7:30am will be reflected in how I coach at 10:00am.
Showing Empathy to our clients, to our co-workers, to even our rivals is the only way to truly engage with people. Brené Brown describes Empathy as seeing and feeling the world through the eyes of the other person. That is a gift for anyone in business – to see the world through our clients’ eyes is to see exactly what they need and to be able to feel their pain. This ability to see and feel, to be genuine has to start before we get in the room with the client. It has be lived out.
So here’s a question – what is in our hearts? Is it stillness, calm, security to listen, or is it panic, the feeling that we have to have the answer, the need to control? If we are human, it is a mixture of both. Maybe, now and again, we should try a bit of open-heart surgery. Let’s ask the people around us to speak honestly about our Empathy factor and give them permission to give us feedback on our listening skills. Let’s seek to hold on less to our own stories and listen more to others. It will transform us and the way we do business.