The Art of Being Authentic

With social media at an all-time high, it can be easy to get caught up in how you appear to others, otherwise known as image-management. With image-management, you find yourself pre-occupied with how you appear to others and what they think of you. This gets in the way of looking for opportunities to create a genuine connection.

We often think that the spotlight is on us, with people watching our every move, decision, and word choice. Jean Pincott writes in Psychology Today’s article, Lessons You Won’t Learn in School,The time you spend focused on yourself wondering if you are displaying confidence, competence, awkwardness, or agitation, likely doesn’t matter.

"The evidence shows that the spotlight is not quite so bright. People do not notice us nearly as much as we think they do."
Jena E Pincott
Psychology Today

Case in point
A group of study participants wore a shirt adorned with Barry Manilow’s head. All participants were embarrassed to wear the shirt in public. They were asked to guess how many of their peers would notice the shirt. 

Fewer than half of the estimated number of people even regarded the shirt!! We aren’t in the center of people’s worlds as much as we think. 

Deep Sigh of Relief

That means when you say something stupid, trip down the hallway, or awkwardly extend a hand to greet someone while juggling your coffee and phone, take a big breath. People don’t notice you as much you think they do! Pincott refers to this as the Spotlight Effect.

We often get so caught up with our own feelings and thoughts circling in our head that we create stories about what someone else is saying about their experience with us. 

He thinks I was too bold. Maybe I should have done this instead. 

I hope I didn’t offend her. Maybe I should have agreed instead of offering a new solution???

We often look at these stories as truth versus what they really are….stories we create!

While this is all very interesting, what is even more intriguing is that the spotlight extends to our internal state as well. We often believe that our internal state is known to others and we work very hard to try to cover how we are really feeling. This too is radically overestimated.

So what happens if we turn the spotlight off, let down our guard, and toss image-management out the window? You might just: 

"Being genuine can inspire emotional reciprocity turning the spotlight into a shared floodlight."
Jena E Pincott
Psychology Today

Pay attention throughout the week and notice times when you believe you are in the spotlight. What image are you trying to portray to others?

In what situations do you have your guard up? Why is there a need to protect yourself?

What are the differences between the real you and the image-managed you?

What stories are you creating in your head about how other people see you?

Find one opportunity this week and practice sharing the genuine version of yourself. How does it feel? It’s okay if it feels scary. This might be a new idea for you! What is the value in being genuine with others?

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Meaningful Conversations

I had a boss that stopped by my office every Monday morning. It was like clockwork. He would casually walk by, say hello, and then ask the same question every week. Every week.

“How was your weekend?”

While I appreciated his attempt to connect with me, the conversation never really went any deeper. After I answered his question, he never really responded with anything much beyond “cool.”  The interaction went something like this.

BossHow was your weekend?
MeIt was good. We hung out with some friends and then tried that new restaurant in town. 
BossCool.
MeHow about you?
BossYea, we hung out with the kids. Jimmy had a baseball game (starts to walk away). Well, I’ll catch you later.

The Lost Art of Connecting

Harvard Business Review, The Suprising Power of Simply Asking Coworkers How They’re Doing, talks about the power of taking time to connect with those around you.

Empathy shows that we are interested in and actually care about the other person. Sometimes I think the world is moving at such a rapid pace, we lose opportunities to get to know each other, share life, and offer our support and encouragement.

Discover the possibilities
Take my example above and let’s look at the possibilities.

BossHow was your weekend?
MeIt was good. We hung out with some friends and then tried that new restaurant in town. 
BossOh, that’s cool. Which one?
MeThe new Mediterranean one on Main and Lake.
BossWe’ve been meaning to try that place. How was it?
MeIt was really good. I am trying to eat gluten free so it was a good option for me. 
BossMy wife and I do the same. It was hard at first. I do most of the cooking and found some pretty good recipes. How has it been for you?
MeWow, that’s encouraging. It is hard! I crave bread. I think I need to get those recipes from you!

The second conversation has so much possibility in it. Expand each section below to reveal more.

During the first conversation I:

  • Feel: indifferent, disconnected, insignificant, and annoyed

During the second conversation I:

  • Feel: heard, connected, grateful, interested, and inspired

The new feelings help me to feel valued as an employee, and as a result, my engagement level is likely to go up. My boss and I  found something that we have in common and an experience we can share.

Practice asking questions and showing interest in others. Start small and see where the conversation goes.

Start with easy questions that get at who, what, where, when, why, or how.

Pay attention for opportunities to connect.

Go one question deeper and ask about something that goes beneath the surface.

Know when to stop so that the other person doesn’t feel like they are being interrogated or that you are prying.

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Seeing Beneath the Surface

Life is complicated. People are complicated. And while we may try to put on a happy face, often times we come to the table with fears, worries, and “stuff” we try to keep hidden and tucked away. 

Let’s take a look at an example.

1

Look at the pictures below. 

2

Sometimes we only see someone at the surface level. Imagine yourself interacting with this person. What conclusions are you making based on the surface level picture?

3

Next, read each story to see what is going on beneath the surface.

My wife just had her third miscarriage. We’ve been trying for so long. It’s really hard to pretend with my co-workers that everything is ok, but I don’t want people to think I’m distracted. I’m up for that promotion, so I need to stay focused.

More bad news about mom. I need to get to the hospital to visit her, but my team is really counting on me with this deadline. It’s so hard to focus with everything that’s going on.

Balancing work, writing my Ph.D. dissertation, planning a wedding…I’m about to lose it. I don’t want people to think I can’t handle the pressure. I’ll just keep smiling and saying yes. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

4

Consider the perceptions you had of each person just from the picture. What changed once you read the story?

Connecting with others and belonging are basic human needs that are essential to being our best selves.
Gallup

5

Now that you know part of the story, where is there an opportunity to connect at a deeper level with this person.

6

Why do you think empathy in the workplace is important?

What would happen if people had space where they can feel connected with others? A place where a sense of trust is so strong they are comfortable being vulnerable, taking off the mask to share what is really going on.

According to Gallup’s research, connecting with others and belonging are key to being your best self. How have you seen this in the workplace?

Where is there an opportunity for you to connect with others in the workplace? 

How can you inspire the feeling of belonging with your coworkers?

Creating that space begins with you. What one thing can you do starting today to create space so that others feel safe to take off their masks?

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Connecting With Others Through Empathy

The ability to identify and understand what someone else is thinking and feeling is a great start, but if I don’t connect with the other person through those feelings, I  am not really showing empathy.

Watch this short video from Brene Brown to learn more about empathy.

Moving beyond understanding...

Brene Brown references nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy:

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with it, but challenge yourself to understand what the other person is experiencing.

This requires putting aside your own biases and perspectives.

This requires emotional literacy, the ability to identify and understand the meaning of feelings.

This requires your ability to communicate your understanding of someone’s feelings and provide a space to talk more about what is going on. 

It sounds like you are in a hard place now. Tell me more about it.

It’s important to remember that Empathy is NOT:

With the fast pace of life and challenging demands on time, it can be difficult to slow down enough to empathize with others. But it’s in the empathy where we truly connect and build strong relationships. 

Practice applying Theresa Wiseman’s four attributes of empathy this week. 

As you take an active interest in connecting with someone, pay attention to their response. What happens?

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Practicing Empathy With These 5 Steps

Whether you just watched this video for the first time, or the tenth time, it’s a great reminder that sometimes the other person just wants empathy. That’s our cue to be quick to listen and slow to speak. 

Don't just do something, sit there!
Anonymous

5 Steps to Engage Empathy

1

Listen. Don’t feel compelled to fix, advise, or do anything other than listening. Pay attention to the words, tone, and body language. What are you noticing?

2

Face forward and consider the possible feelings the other person may be experiencing and their right to them. Even if you don’t agree, everyone has the right to their own feelings.

3

Suspend judgment. This is such an important step. Empathy is not about what you would do in the same situation, it’s about what the other person is experiencing.

4

Listen and practice mirroring what you are hearing in your own words. You have a lot on your plate. You have a difficult decision in front of you. You value flexibility, and this situation is challenging your value.

5

Seek to understand and show interest with your response. What has that been like for you? Say more about that. How does that make you feel? What’s your internal dialogue? Thank you for sharing this with me. 

Using empathy takes great self-awareness! Catch yourself from wanting to jump in and fix things, so that you create space to empathize with others. 

Empathy takes practice. Just like any new skill, it may feel awkward and clumsy at first. However, with practice, you will become more comfortable.

Look for empathy. Who do you know that has a talent for empathizing with others? What does he or she do well? What can you learn from this person?

If empathy is not your sweet spot, look for opportunities to use empathy and practice with someone you know well. Ask for feedback afterward. “I’m practicing my listening skills and trying to connect with more empathy. How did it feel to be on the receiving end of that?”

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Two Types of Empathy

Imagine working on a team with a sharp and talented project manager. The project manager is brilliant with keeping the team on point, setting deadlines, responsibilities, and making sure everyone and everything is where they need to be. Without her, your team would be lost.

But she also has her limitations. You notice that she always has her head in her notebook during team meetings, and she rarely interacts with others on a personal level. When she does join in, it’s business only and very matter of fact focusing only on the task at hand. The team is often put off when she reminds them of upcoming deadlines. 

The project manager lacks empathy!

Two Types of Empathy

There are two types of empathy.

You apply reason to understand the other person’s situation and perspective and consider what else may be influencing their actions.

You physically feel a change in your body as a response to seeing someone else’s strong emotion.

This week, pay attention to how you connect with others using empathy.

Are you more likely to show empathy at work or at home?

In what types of situations is it easier for you to connect with empathy?

Are you more likely to experience cognitive or emotional empathy?

Where are there opportunities for you to connect with others? With whom would you like to show more empathy?

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What is Empathy?

Empathy is your ability to understand and connect with others’ feelings and thoughts, even when they are not communicated in an objectively explicit manner.  

In other words, you don’t need to be hit over the head to figure out how someone may be feeling in a particular situation. You sense it from their words, body language, tone of voice, and other social cues.  

Most will agree that empathy in our personal relationships makes sense. But how does it play out in the workplace? Complete the Practice Sessions in this module to find out!

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