Updated: May 29, 2020
There's so much I love about Brené Brown's work. It's a joy to read someone's thoughts and feel a kindred-ship with how her mind works. I've met Brené, and she's pretty great in person, too. She's just as she seems on camera and in print - real.
As her works do, Dare to Lead, the latest publication, challenged me with deep introspection. In this Talent Folks' Book Brief, I'm pleased to bring you a couple of ideas for you to reflect on, as well. Remember, Book Briefs offer talent development-specific application from business, leadership and sundry books. Not a review. Not a synopsis. A few bullets that you can apply to your daily TD life. In this Book Brief, we're focusing on two elements to use as you're coaching and leading talent development efforts: empathy and curiosity.
1. Empathy in engaging with your customers One of the key skills needed to engage successfully with others is empathy. According to this article from Psychology Today, "empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal or fictional character." I know you're thinking it - "I know fictional characters that I have more empathy for than some people." Yup, me, too. Luckily, Brené has some guidance for us.
I bet you have hard conversations frequently with both leaders and employees. Usually when conversations become challenging, we're dealing with high emotions. Here's where Brené's teaching applies. She writes, "Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it's connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience (p 140)." When you're in the midst of a challenging discussion that's not going well, stretch your empathy muscle to connect with the emotions. See under the actions or verbal commentary to the emotions.
Further, Brené encourages us to honor others' truths, knowing that we see the world from our own personal lenses. She encourages, "One of the signature mistakes with empathy is that we believe we can take our lenses off and look through the lenses of someone else. We can't. Our lenses are soldered to who we are. What we can do, however, is honor people's perspectives as truth even when they're different from ours (p 143)." I love that. Even if I don't agree with a perspective, I can respect the other person's truth, and become the learner in how they are reacting to a situation.
How does this help in our day jobs? We often find ourselves in situations where others need an ear, or we're supporting a leader through a difficult performance situation with an employee on her team or we're supporting the employee in that difficult situation - and maybe we're supporting both parties. Honing in to the emotions driving a conversation may help pinpoint where to go next. And understanding that you need to set aside your own perspective to learn someone else's truth may also help pinpoint where to go next. I firmly believe empathy is one of the most important skills we should build. This article agrees with me.
2. Remaining Curious
I just love working with folks who are curious. They wonder about everything and there's something to learn in every activity. Their why questions help us uncover new thinking or get to the heart of a solution. I wish we could be take that curious nature with us when we enter into difficult conversations. It might cause us to start a conversation with, "That's not my experience, and I'd like to hear yours." or "The story I'm making up right now is…" Or what if we engaged curiosity verses frustration when we don't know the answer to a challenging situation - "What problem are we trying to solve?" or just "Tell me more."
Brené writes that "we're scared to have hard conversations because we can't control the path or outcome, and we start coming out of our skin when we don't get to resolution fast enough. It's as if we'd rather have a bad solution that leads to action than stay in the uncertainty of problem identification (p 171)."
So the next time the conversation heats up, employ empathy and then ask a question that seeks to understand. Get curious and settle in.
Empathy and curiosity are just two skills in the ability to rumble vulnerably and wholeheartedly that Brené unpacks in Dare to Lead. There is more to glean for yourself and your leadership of others. To help you practice curiosity, two of my take-aways were:
"Clear is kind; unclear is unkind"
Be "fierce & kind"
Dare to Lead uses research and lessons from her other works, and continues to weave in stories and personal challenges to highlight her points. Her vulnerability in sharing personal struggles is one of the things I appreciate most about Brené's work. "Know yourself" is where I begin most leadership development programs that cover multiple topics. I firmly believe that it's hard to be a great leader to others if you're clueless about yourself, your values, your triggers, etc. Brené is great at getting at the heart of knowing yourself and causing self-reflection. And on that note, sometimes she makes me anxious, too. Too much introspection maybe?
Your action after reading this article: do a quick search on empathy to learn one new perspective and try it out this week during an interaction with a colleague.
Second action: Tune into future Talent Folks' Book Briefs by signing up below.
Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead. Random House, 2018.