Empathy deals in the currency of emotion.

This means, as leaders, we need to be capable of holding the space for emotional expression.

As a Gallup Strengths Coach I often work with teams that are exploring their natural themes of talent. They want to better understand which talents they rely on to build relationships, think strategically, execute plans and influence others to accomplish goals. CliftonStrengths is a powerful tool to better understand that.

People who lead with a strong Empathy theme sense other people’s feelings and lead more intuitively and emotionally. For those with this as a lesser theme, it can seem as though they are speaking a foreign language. Those who lead with a more Analytical approach search for reasons and causes, they want to be more logical and objective in their approach.

Both are extremely valuable. But if we want to elevate empathy in a conversation, there will be times when we need to to dial down the logic or reason and dial up the emotion. Gallup describes it as giving people freedom to explore the gladness, sadness and madness of humanity.

Yes, this means there’s a time to talk about feelings. It may not be your primary approach, but it can be a practiced skill. Holding space for others to express their emotions starts with becoming more aware of your own.

Here’s a few ways to raise your own level of emotional awareness:

  1. Notice – Start to intentionally note, track and identify your emotions as you feel them.
  2. Learn – Explore with personal curiosity how each emotion affects you both physically & mentally.
  3. Articulate – Build out your emotional vocabulary to find new ways of describing each emotion.

Here’s a few ways to hold the space for emotional expression in your team:

  1. Curiosity – Look beyond ‘what’ happened objectively and seek to understand ‘how’ this has impacted the person.
  2. Safety – Your conversations can only go as deep as they are psychologically safe.
  3. Appreciation – Acknowledge and thank the person when they choose to share their honest feelings.
  4. Boundaries – Ensure there are clear boundaries around emotional expression. This means people know when, where and how it is beneficial and safe to express their emotions.

If empathy feels with and not just for then we cannot ignore the important role of feelings.

A question to reflect on:
“How can I be more aware of my own emotions and sensitive to the emotions of others?”