One of the scales in the Challenge of Change Resilience Profile measures Sensitivity. We usually talk about this in conjunction with the Detached Coping scale: people who are high on both have what we call Detached Compassion, which means that they can pick up quickly and accurately how other people feel but don't themselves become identified or involved with the emotions.
People may score low on the Sensitivity scale either because they aren't sensitive to how others are feeling (and often end up hurting people's feelings,) or because they are sensitive only to their own emotions – they are easily upset by the actions of others and are pre-occupied with how they are feeling. They're far too miserable to think about how anyone else feels! This provides an endless source of emotional issues to ruminate about, and being bound to emotional states makes it almost impossible to take the final step of letting go.
So what can you do if you score low on the sensitivity scale? Let's start with the first part, not being sensitive to others. Perhaps you've developed the idea that feelings don't matter – especially at work, where your whole focus is on what you do and getting results. But feelings do matter! People who fail, especially managers, often do so because they can't manage people, and especially because they can't manage the emotions of people. They can't get them excited and committed about something; they can't manage people's resistance or passive aggression; they can't deliver difficult messages without upsetting people; they are abrupt and rude. Look around you: how much fuss, wasted time, and/or withdrawal of effort do you think you can attribute to not managing emotions and hurt feelings? Little wonder that the managers who received the most positive feedback from their direct reports in one of our case studies were characterised by sensitivity to others. A lack of sensitivity might even lead to being asked to leave. In your own experience, how much was to do with them upsetting others rather than their results?
Here are some ideas to get you started on developing your sensitivity to others.
1. Try asking people how they are feeling
The best ideas are always the simplest! When people have completed a task or are about to start a new one, when there is change in their life, or when they are asking your opinion on something, try asking them how they are feeling. For example: how do you feel about been asked to do this? How do you feel about your kids leaving home? Think of it as data collection. The more you observe, collect and study the data, the better you will get at picking up others emotions. Expect a reaction though – this is likely to be new behaviour for you so people will be surprised!
You can show sensitivity just by listening without judgement and without trying to fix anything. Just hear the story and then signal you understand it – watch the way judgements and attempts to offer solutions come up in your mind, bite your tongue and let all of that go by just genuinely listening. Simple phrases like "how awful," or "how fabulous," or "that's really hard," or "that's wonderful" can convey that you have understood and heard the main sentiment. Listening and understanding isn't the same thing as agreeing: you can still disagree or say no to something.
3. Study those who show appropriate sensitivity
Who do you know shows sensitivity to others without getting overly involved? Watch them. What do they say and do? What of that can you do too? You don't have to do everything they do and you don't want to be a clone, but there will be many ways they behave that you can try.
4. Slow down!
You may be very action-oriented and always in a rush. You may also be impulsive. You tend to say the first thing that comes into your head. You can't be bothered with the social niceties. You rush to judgements and conclusions and don't hear people out. With all of this you need to slow down! Seek first to understand. A few minutes invested in building the relationship will save hours of repairing hurt feelings. Of all of the changes you can make to the way you behave this will be one of the most challenging. We know from our research that impulsiveness is quite strongly hard-wired, so just keep working at it.
5. If you hurt people's feelings, apologise and promise to do better next time
If you do hurt others feelings own up to it! Say sorry quickly, in person or by phone or in an email if you must. Promise to do better. People who are really committed to change will ask the person for ideas about how they could handle the situation better next time and they ask for feedback at a later date, "e.g. I am trying to be a better at giving people more time. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not much change and 10 being lots how much change have you seen?"
6. Practice delivering tough messages
If you have to deliver some tough messages, try out some different ways. Run your ideas past people. Rehearse what you will say (though of course without ruminating about it!) and get feedback.
You can develop your sensitivity to others, the second part to this blog will be posted in a few days and looks at being overly sensitive to your own emotions and how others respond to you.