How Can You Quickly Discover if Employees are on Track?

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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 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 lead, 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 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 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 lower level reptile brain, which is seldom used in business today, perceives thru subtle, instinctive vibes. To feel into another person, project your awareness to the other person, envision moving down in your brain toward your instinctive senses, and notice the way 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 I’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 on this.


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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  1. Larry Riggs  November 16, 2011

    In this day and time any leader who isn’t willing to study human behavior and ways to help develop the full potential of those they lead is not a true leader. I am saddened when I see posts on how to lead that are simply going through a dry process rather than getting a feel for where their team is emotionally. Over the years I have used multiple sources of reference to understand those I lead. From Tony Robbins on motivation and personal development to Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame that Binds You” to help them overcome sordid pasts and everthing in between. You have hit a very key point with this post. The “leaders” who just keep firing and hiring to cover their own laziness are a sad statement of one side of business.

  2. Stacey Cramer  November 16, 2011

    Interesting read. Although I am not a people leader, I try to sense emotions and feelings in others I am working with. Thanks for sharing

  3. Mr. Lasse  November 19, 2011

    Very interesting. I have a degree in astrophysics and that includes quantum mechanics of course. My alarm always sounds, when I see the theories of the atomic world applied to all kinds of everyday situations (on our subjective and macroscopic level), but sometimes there are gems to be found. I look forward to read more in depth of your musings and feel there is something to be learned. Thank you.

    just one caution (or philosophical puzzle) for you and the general reader: Whenever we rely on our senses, we have to include the possibility that we interpret wrong because they are subjective and not objective. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use our senses as guides, but we cannot get rid of the all-pervasive element of “doubt”. In this context I feel it is relevant to underline this, because when you try to read other people, there is always the possibility, that you are down a dead-end ally. They could be hiding and clouding their real emotions (intentionally or non-intentionally), their emotions could be so complex, that you as an observer simply don’t have the ability to comprehend them to their full extent, you could be clouded in your observance by your own emotions, agenda and interest even if you are not aware of it yourself, their emotional state could change profoundly in a split second, and so forth… So the element of doubt will always be with us. In fact this is perhaps the most fascinating existential part of QM: That reality is always changing and never what it seems. You think you (can) control the situation and know it all, but everything can flip in no time, even without a causing effect. Recognizing it can only make you better (and more human) and reinstalls respect of nature and reality because it can never be fully controlled or realized!

    I think the element of doubt in QM, could be especially fruitful in a field like psychiatry. I find contemporary psychiatry too deterministic and that hurts people. Someday I would like to write more in depth of this subject. OK, bye for now from Denmark 🙂

  4. Don Stevenson  November 23, 2011

    @Jackie Love the title of your book. My take on your question: There is a perspective from which there are no “things” such as we distinguish when we “keep in mind” our experience of reality. We, and all things, are subatomic resonances…clouds of being within a greater Cloud. Our brains are useful in distinguishing shapes within the Cloud of clouds, and those distinctions become boundaries of separation: self from not-self…as well as boundaries between a whole spectrum of dualistic differentiations. Those differentiations are useful for the survival of separate selves. And the dividing and classifying of separate distinctions within the Cloud of Being have given us the trappings of our modern world. The price we pay is that our default identities are as separate selves…insecure in our isolation…or rather, the illusion of our isolation…from which we seek liberation by finding love…or more things. But beyond the illusion, beyond the differentiations between you and me…is the Cloud of Being that contains you and me. And from that perspective, beyond the differentiation, of course I can feel what you feel, and you, me. When our identity expands within that Cloud until it feels the full embrace of the Cloud, then we can find the “ultimate security”, the absorption into a Cloud of Love. And despite any illusion that we have not yet found IT, the truth is that we can not even escape IT except in an illusion of separation. The Cloud of Being is Itself the Gift of Being…to feel right here and right now…for no reason at all…other than to feel…the Embrace.

  5. Benoit Marinoff  December 1, 2011

    I think it is a great way to help your company move forward and lead your team into becoming stronger. How can you improve and develop this skill though?


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