Honing Your Sixth Sense

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As leaders, we need to know what’s going on with our teams and employees. Are they facing major obstacles? Is their rational thinking overridden with fear? They’re not always willing to say they need help, as they may perceive it as a sign of weakness or they may believe there will be negative repercussions. Now science is showing us how to read the emotions of other people, so we can proactively offer help.

Taking Empathy to the Next Level

Empathy is the act of recognizing and sharing the feelings (such as jubilation or fear) that are being experienced by another person. New scientific discovery is giving us confidence to expand on this traditional definition by including the ability to pick up on the felt, bodily sensations of another person. As leaders, this helps us know if an employee needs our help to clear an obstacle or needs to receive some encouragement.

A large number of experiments using functional MRI have focused on brain processes underlying the experience of empathy. They have shown that certain brain regions are active when people experience an emotion and the same regions are active when they see another person experiencing the same emotion. The practice of “feeling into” another person is reportedly used in psychotherapy , and now we can use it in business.

An Invaluable Leadership Tool

Being able to tell how another person is feeling is a great skill for anyone in a position of leading people, but it can be invaluable for certain types of project leadership. In the Information Technology teams I’ve led, we use Agile software development techniques, and one common practice is a daily stand-up meeting. In these sessions, the teams have a very short daily meeting where each person is to quickly state how their work is going, exposing any issues so the team can help. The problem is that often team members don’t feel comfortable reporting issues. If the leader has the ability to feel for themselves how the person is doing, they can question the person further or can make a mental note to follow up with them later.

Get Out of Your Mind

When you feel into another person, you’re using a part of your brain not typically used in business. There are three levels of your brain and each perceives differently. The upper, neocortex deals with abstract-conceptual perception and rational meaning. This is generally the most action level in a business setting. The midbrain handles perception through the five senses, and the reptile brain perceives thru subtle vibes, such as instinctive attraction and repulsion. To feel into another person, project your awareness to the other person, envision moving down in your brain toward your instinctive senses, and pay attention to how your body feels.

This is where knowledge of how your own emotions feel in your body really pays off, because you will feel their emotions the same way you feel your own. When the other person is feeling empowered and confident, you may feel energy rising in your body, perhaps a warmness around your chest. If, on the other hand, you feel your energy drop or tighten, the other person is likely tense, worried, feeling overwhelmed, or holding something back. You can feel the steady waves of harmonious people and the adrenaline of people who are afraid or operating from their ego.

This technique works in person, by phone or even email, as long as you feel a connection to the other person and can project your awareness to them. It’s important to keep in mind that especially while you’re learning this technique, always verify with the person that you’ve accurately detected what they’re feeling. I find that people are usually pleasantly surprised that you’ve been able to detect how they’re feeling.

Can you see yourself using this technique with confidence? Do you already use this type of technique or something similar? How would this be useful to you as a leader? Please share your thoughts.

This blog post was originally posted at www.linked2leadership.com.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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