If you want to have a successful marriage, enjoy a great relationship with your children, and be a respected leader in the community, you must learn how to develop empathy.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This tends to be a problem for most men.
If you are like me, you were raised to think emotions are irrelevant, and showing emotions would be a sign of weakness. I always thought that the harder and non-emotional I was, the more of a leader I was showing myself to be. Especially on the football field!
What horrible advice to give someone! Conditioning myself to turn off my emotions is actually what cripples my ability to lead effectively.
It’s because if I’m conditioned to ignore my feelings, I will also be conditioned to ignore the feelings of others.
Meet the Jones’
My wife and I had a chance to meet with a couple that needed some counseling and marriage coaching. The wife was drowning in despair and was on the verge of filing for divorce. She felt as though her husband didn’t care about her, and what she said was important to him. The kicker was that fact that the husband didn’t even know the extent of her frustration!
As they talked, she immediately began to cry as she expressed how she was feeling. To my surprise, the husband never acknowledged her emotions or tears. He seemed numb to her pain, as if it didn’t exist. He chalked it up to, “She’s just being emotional right now. This is a logical decision we need to make, not an emotional one.”
Wow! Your wife is sobbing and in tears because of your decision. And you aren’t even going to acknowledge her pain?
This is the case for too many men. We tend to stay logical while trying to lead, and forget that the most important aspect of leadership is being able to connect with those you lead. People won’t be able to follow the lead of someone that they feel you can’t relate to them.
Here are 3 ways to develop empathy.
Know your emotions. According to recent studies, 80% of people are not aware of their emotions throughout the day. The first step in being able to show empathy to others is to be aware of your own emotions. One easy way to do this is to make a journal of your emotions throughout the day. How many emotions do you think you experience daily?
Look for meaning engagement. Look for opportunities to make a meaningful connection with your family daily. This can be done by making sure you create uninterrupted times to check-in. Having a conversation while being distracted by TV or your phone gives a nonverbal message that what’s on the TV or phone is more important than the person. It also keeps you from seeing their body language, or the expression in their eyes that can give you clues to how they are really feeling.
Be vulnerable and transparent. Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is a sign of strength for a leader. Vulnerability allows for your family to see that you have felt what they are feeling, which allows them to know you understand what they are going through. Taking a moment to share a story of how you have experienced the same emotion that they are experiencing puts you on their level, and makes it easier to know you truly care.