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Empathy in the Workplace

by Coaching Out of the Box

When it comes to making sure you and your coworkers are operating at the highest rate of efficiency, there are a ton of factors to consider. Things like communication, cooperation, and leadership are commonly discussed elements of a successful team, but what underlies all of these things is a little thing called empathy. Empathy, not to be confused with sympathy, is the ability to experience and relate to thoughts and emotions of people around you, and it is a vital skill often overlooked in the workplace.

 
Empathy – The Key to Leadership
 
For some time now, it has been relatively common knowledge that empathy is an essential component of strong relationships. At the same time, research shows that leadership in the workplace has become an increasingly relationship-based role, dependent largely upon your ability to really get the most out of your relationships with others. In today’s increasingly connected world, contact and communication with people from different countries, cultures, and ideologies is common as well. Leaders who have the ability to understand and empathize with others find crossing these divides to be much easier. 
 
In addition to being able to work with diverse people more easily, the empathic leader has a bunch of advantages in other ways, as well. For instance, regardless of the specific setting, it is vital to the success of any project that the people working together believe in and care about the goal towards which they are working. The empathic leader will not only show people that he cares about them, but that he believes in their endeavors and understands the rigors of the task. This last part is especially important, as a strong leader absolutely must have an acute awareness of others. They have to watch for signs of stress and fatigue, and know when their employees or co-workers need a little extra support. Lastly, empathy is a top factor psychologists look for when evaluating a person’s emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is, research suggests, a strong indicator of leadership ability.
 
Empathy Can Be Learned
 
So empathy is important, that much is clear. But it seems like the sort of thing you’re either born with or you aren’t. Fortunately, it can be taught and it can be learned. In fact, even if you are a naturally empathic person, honing these skills is a beneficial practice and can be accomplished through focusing on these five main areas:
 
Open Discussion – As discussed above, understand and explain to your employees the importance of empathy. Let them know that the best way for them to improve upon this vital skill is to give real time and attention to others, and be open to feedback. For people who are more performance or “numbers” oriented, explain to them the strong correlation between an empathetic workplace and improved work output.
Listening Skills – Listening is a skill which many people neglect or confuse with “hearing”. Listening is an active process which involves withholding judgment, reflecting your understanding of what is being said, asking for clarification, and sharing in dialogue. By practicing these things, you will better understand what your employees or co-workers are saying, thereby increasing your understanding of them.
Walk in Others’ Shoes – The practice of “walking in others’ shoes” involves shifting your perspective and attempting to feel what someone else might be going through. When interacting with others, actively bring into consciousness what you know of the other person’s life experiences and try to imagine what it is like to be in their position at this moment in time. This may be difficult at first, but over time and with practice, this will begin to come naturally.
Compassion – This is an issue of going beyond the surface level when decisions are being made or events are taking place. Take the time to go deeper than just, say, the financial ramifications of business decision or the nuts-and-bolts view of company structure. Think about how these things affect those around you on an individual and emotional level. Be open, allowing time to reflect on these things honestly and compassionately.
Experience Diversity – Take every opportunity you can to involve yourself with different people. Whether they are of a different race, religion, nationality, or age group, interact constantly with people outside your norm. When doing so, do it with an eye towards learning more about who they are, what they believe in, and what their experiences have taught them. The more different people you learn about and come to understand, the greater your capacity for empathy will be.
 
Teach Empathy. Learn Empathy.
 
When it comes to improving on areas in your own life or helping others to improve their skillsets, it’s important to take a look at what’s most important. In other words, if you’re going to take time to work on something, it is better if that something is an area which affects nearly all parts of a person’s life. Empathy is such an area. By practicing the tools above, you can improve just about every area of your life, from work to personal relationships to just about anything you can think of. Practice empathy in your daily life, share it with others, and learn to grow together. 

 

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10 Important Actions of Leadership

by Coaching Out of the Box

Being a leader doesn’t come from a position or a title, but rather actions and examples. People choose to follow those they admire and respect. In order to gain a followership or lead a team, certain qualities, characteristics and actions need to be implemented. The following are 10 Important Actions to building leadership status:

  1. Put others first. Making others feel important will gain their trust and improve the relationship.
  2. Have a vision, set of values or common goal people can get behind. When others believe that the cause is worthwhile, they will be willing to get on board.
  3. Practice praise and gratitude. These are important to others, especially if they feel unimportant or unappreciated.
  4. Be there. Leadership takes commitment to be visible to the followers or team. If they don’t feel everyone, including the leader, is fully part of the team, the overall atmosphere suffers.
  5. Communicate effectively. Make conversations interactive and get the point across efficiently.
  6. Be decisive and lead by example. Be the person worth following and make the important decisions quickly and effectively.
  7. Delegate to competent team members. There is no one-man-show in a team. Take the tasks others might not want, but ensure those with the skills to be effective are being utilized.
  8. Practice respect. Respect is easier to give to people who already show it.
  9. Inspire and motivate. Focus on the positive aspects of each team member and motivate them to grow their skills and competencies.
  10. Keep momentum up. There may be times were morale is lower or goals are not being met in the timeframes set out. Every plan needs to be adaptable and it is up to the leader to ensure things stay on track.

The best leadership advice is to follow other leaders to see their example. Outside of this, the above actions are key to building a strong leadership presence and a loyal team or followership. The start of good leadership is caring about others and wanting to see everyone benefit from success. Even if leadership isn’t the goal, these actions can help improve relationships and build to success.

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5 Steps for Creative Problem Solving

by Coaching Out of the Box

The old adage, “think outside the box” is well known and somewhat overused, but the theory behind it is sound. Not every problem has a straight forward solution just like every road isn’t flat and straight. Sometimes it takes insight, creativity and sheer determination to get the solution necessary to solve a difficult problem.

Here are some steps to help with creative problem solving:

  1. Identify the problem or goal and clearly define the parameters. The purpose of this is to completely understand what the issues are; it isn’t always exactly as it seems and breaking it down can help challenge the original interpretation to best identify strategies moving forward.
  2. Review any steps already taken to deal with the issue and what the results were. Research solutions others might have also used and their outcomes. This may help with processing the right information to find a solution.
  3. Simplify with challenging questions to find solutions and then generate creative ideas for solving them. For instance, if the issue is making more money, a challenging question would be “How might I go about making more money?”
  4. Realistically evaluate these ideas. It may be worthwhile to take a break between steps 3 and 4 to let things set in. Additional ideas may come to mind in the meantime or focusing on other things in life could provide a necessary break to help with better concentration upon returning.
  5. Make an action plan and pursue it. Base the plan, or plans, on the ideas that work for the goal. Creative ideas may mean taking risks and this can sometimes dissolve some of the motivation, but a simple action plan can help alleviate this concern with straight forward steps that one can focus on. Follow these steps but be prepared to adapt them as situations change. Don’t be afraid to come back and re-write if the situation changes – nothing is set in stone.

Creative problem solving is a thought process and not necessarily just a series of “Aha!” moments. The ultimate goal is to move through the problem to the solution as efficiently as possible. The steps above will help to form processes for not only current situations but future ones as well. It may also lead to automatic creative solutions based on previous experiences using these steps. Never underestimate the abilities of the mind to find solutions to all of life’s problems, even if they are “outside the box”.

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7 Steps to Becoming a Better Listener

by Coaching Out of the Box

 

Mindful listening is an integral part of any coach, leader or even friend’s skill set. It creates the ability to establish relationships and build bonds with others. Holding a simple conversation may not seem like it requires a lot of skill, only participation, but to really get to know someone, it takes the ability to listen to them. The biggest mistake people make in dialogue is to focus on their own responses to what is being said, but unintentionally missing portions of what the other person is saying. This habit can be hard to break, but well worth practicing in order to improve listening skills. This also limits the ability to see things from another person’s perspective since your own perspective has become the focus of your thoughts in order to build up a response, especially if the conversation is quite involved. There are some habits which can be formed to assist with improving your ability to listen and therefore, make conversations more valuable.

  1. Learn from the other person by mindfully listening to what they are saying. Avoid creating responses while they are still talking. This may seem counterintuitive as it can lead to pauses in the conversation while you form a response, but this can be alleviated with simple saying “you make an interesting point, let me think about it for a second.” Most people will appreciate that you didn’t jump to your own conclusions right away.

  2. Repeat back what the other person has said to show you were listening. This is especially helpful to make sure what you heard it what they meant. This also allows you to absorb their information in order to better understand not only their point of view, but what your point of view might be as well.

  3. Make eye contact and show interest in the other person. Avoid staring at them and keep your stance casual, but appearing to be interested goes a long way in providing a level of comfort and trust to the other person. Add in nodding where applicable to show body language of interest and understanding.

  4. Avoid distractions. Ignore your phone, even turn off the ringer if the conversation looks to be a longer one. Find an area that is less travelled and therefore less likely to have interruptions from passersby.

  5. Don’t assume you know what they are thinking or what they meant when they said something vague. Ask for clarification so the conversation can continue to flow in a positive way.

  6. Be honest in your responses. If you don’t know something, say so.

  7. Watch the other person’s body language for clues to not only what they are saying, but their responses to what you are saying. This also goes for your own body language during the conversation. Make sure your body language is appropriate to the current conversation and show attentiveness.

Improved listening can help in both work and personal conversations and improve your connections. Practice these habits with each conversation to improve your skills and relationships.

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3 Steps to Improve Dialogue with Laser Speaking

by Coaching Out of the Box

A common thread among people is to want to be heard and understood. In both business and personal life, opinions, thoughts and ideas are communicated and often reiterated time and time again in an effort to ensure those words are received effectively. Unfortunately, the time and energy spent in recycling the same conversation is often wasted. This can be especially true in a business meeting where time is of the essence and people’s focus often wanders to their to-do lists and projects piling on their desks. Laser speak can be the answer to these issues and improve not only time management, but communication. This efficiency tool helps to keep conversations to the point and eliminates unnecessary additional information and reiteration. It focuses the attention of both the speaker and the listener by not allowing the point to be lost in an endless barrage of words and metaphors. The key to laser speech is to use as few words as possible to identify the point or to respond to another person’s comments. It helps to maximize the time spent in meetings or group communications, including written format and requires people to focus their thinking specifically on what is being said and the shortest response they need to make an impacting statement.

Implementing laser speaking is as simple as these three steps:

  1. Identify the reasons for laser speaking and demonstrate it personally. If members of the team understand the reasoning behind this approach, they are more likely to get on board with it.
  2. Help focus the discussion by encouraging only laser speech responses. Using positive dialogue, identify when someone is not quite grasping the technique or has forgotten to focus their point effectively.
  3. Ensure everyone has had an opportunity to speak within the time allotted. With this technique, additional persons who may otherwise have remained quiet may take the opportunity to speak up. This can help create a more rounded conversation overall and bring a better outcome to the discussion.

Once this technique has been implemented and understood, team meetings can take on a whole new level of productivity and the team dynamic can positively move forward with a renewed momentum.

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