Pursue What Matters
Episode 54: Leading with Empathy & Resilience
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Wow, we’ve been on a roller coaster and the hits just keep on coming. But you are made for more. So today I’m talking about leading with empathy, and paving the way for resilience. So I’ve got a really great resource for you as well, which is your empathy skill building guide. So we are going to be talking about the the foundation of empathy, how it can help you show up for others, show up for yourself and really paved the way for resilience. Because you are meant to lead and you are meant to thrive. So let’s jump on in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:43
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters Podcast, where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work, we all need some empathy. And if we choose, we could all also develop some resilience. But it really is a choice to develop resilience. And if you’re leading others, you really do need to show up with empathy. Because, you know, you’ve probably seen this already, everyone copes very differently with stress, and you need to be able to empathize, empathize, even when responses to the same circumstance can be so different, you’ve probably seen that, you know, you have a team at work, you have a team at home, and everyone responds differently.
Dr. Melissa Smith 1:52
So I had a friend a few weeks ago, it’s been several weeks now. But he posted on social media about how the different members of his family were coping with the quarantine. And first of all, it was hilarious. And second of all, it was spot on, you know, he talked about how the toddler was coping, he talked about, you know, the toddler was pretty whiny, and why can’t I play outside? And then, you know, how the, I think it was the eight year old who was asking a ton, a ton a ton of questions, and then how the preteen was just annoying everyone and you know, picking on everyone, and then how the older teen was just pushing limits. And you know, just we all respond differently to stressful events. And so what is the point with that, the point is, as a leader, you need to empathize, two very different responses to the same circumstance, and that you don’t expect people to respond the way you respond. When you respond to something, don’t expect people to see something, the way you see something, as a leader, you got to be able to show up for people. And so today we are going to talk about two key factors of emotional intelligence, which are empathy and resilience, and specifically how they show up in our leadership, whether at home, or at work. And of course, we so need these characteristics now. So let’s focus on understanding these. And then give you some skills so that you can show up for those you lead and love because we need the skills more than ever.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:46
Okay, so first of all, let’s talk about the attributes of empathy. So the opposite of experiencing shame, is experiencing empathy. So I love the way that Brene Brown talks about this. So she says, if you put shame in a petri dish, and douse it with silence, shame thrives, right? But then if you were to pour on empathy, shame cannot survive. So empathy creates a hostile environment for shame. So that’s really important to pay attention to. We really want to show up with empathy, as an antidote to shame, but also as an antidote to fear and to stress. Right and to uncertainty, which is definitely what we’re all coping with at this point, right. So we’re in we’re in a situation where there’s so much uncertainty, and we need to be in this all together. We we really want to be unified. It doesn’t mean we need to agree about everything, but we can’t afford to be against one another. And so as a team, empathy can really heal a lot of wounds and empathy can help us to, to have that connecting link, to be able to say, Hey, we’re all in this together, we’re going to show up for one another. And so empathy is a skill that when we practice it more, we get better at it. So this is a quote from Minouche Shafik at the London School of Economics. “So in the past jobs were about muscles. Now, they’re about brains. But in the future, they’ll be about the heart.” And so the argument there is that leadership without empathy is not courageous leadership. And we have never needed courageous leaders more than we need them now. So empathy is not it’s not about responding to an experience, right, which so we can say that, you know, responding to COVID. Empathy is connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience. And so by that, I mean, everyone responds differently to an experience, right. So some people might be laughing uncontrollably in response to COVID. Right, that’s, that’s my sister’s response, she just laughed uncontrollably. In response to stress, it’s crazy. But that’s what she does, you might have another team member who just gets silent. In response to COVID, you might have another team member who gets angry, in response to COVID, you might have another team member who moves into mother hen mode or father hen mode, in response to COVID, you might have a team member that moves into fear and anxiety in response to COVID.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:01
So empathy is not responding to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin and experience. So you can see with my example, that as a leader, you need to connect to all of these different emotions that underpin an experience. So you have a team with, say, six different team members. And you might have six different emotions showing up in that room, right, you have the silent one, you have the laughing one, you have the mother hen or the father hen, you have the caretaker, that same one, you have the the anxious one, right. And so empathy is about responding to the emotions, not necessarily the experience. So we know what emotions feel like, even if we don’t know the experience. And that’s the important thing about empathy. Now, when it comes to COVID, we are all walking through this together. So we all kind of know what it’s like to be under quarantine, because we’re all going through that together. But we don’t all necessarily know what it’s like to have a family member hospitalized during COVID. We don’t all necessarily know what it’s like to have a family member who is a healthcare worker during COVID. Right. So even within a shared traumatic experience, there are unique experiences. So So the fact is, right, like even with a shared experience, our emotional experience is different. And empathy is really focused on the emotional experience of someone else. And one of the biggest misunderstandings about empathy is this idea that if you haven’t been through what I’ve been through, you can’t understand me, that’s garbage. It’s not true. So you don’t have to have been through the same experience to be able to empathize with someone.
Dr. Melissa Smith 8:56
Okay. So according to Brene Brown, empathy is based on five skill sets. So she takes these from Teresa Wiseman, who is a researcher, okay, so one is perspective taking. So this is empathy, skill, one perspective taking, and this includes to see the world as others see it. And, and this is really, really valuable. So you need to listen to a person’s story and honor it as truth, even if it doesn’t fit with your experience of that situation. So when we do when we do perspective taking, we’re listening, and we are just honoring that person’s story. We’re not trying to tell them that they’re wrong. We’re not trying to tell them that that’s not based in reality. We were just listening. We’re just showing up for them and honoring it as truth. Because to them, it’s true. Truth, right? So our job is not to be the reality check. It’s not our job to be the truth teller. It is to show up and honor their story as though it is true. So that’s perspective taking empathy skill number one.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:17
Okay. And then skill number two, stay out of judgment. This is a hard one for a lot of people, but stay out of judgment. So we tend to judge in areas where we’re susceptible to shame. And we pick people doing worse than us. Okay, so this one hurts because we all tend to do this. But we’ve got to stay out of judgment. So if you find yourself judging other people, it’s it, we typically judge other people in areas that we’re vulnerable in, right? So if you’re judging another person around their parenting, it’s probably because you kind of feel vulnerable in your parenting. So watch out. So judging another person is a mirror, reflecting back your own issues. So just watch out. I mean, there’s a reason right there to stay out of judgment. And so when we think about this empathy skill, we really want to focus on communication and accountability. And so we want to have honest conversations about what’s happening, and having some boundaries. And so there’s no need for judgment, right? Like, you just empathy. Empathy keeps you out of judgment. Like they don’t, they actually don’t need you to judge them. But you can have boundaries with with another person for sure.
Dr. Melissa Smith 11:45
Okay, and then empathy skill number three, is to recognize emotion, which means to understand another person’s feelings. So would you know, an emotion if it hit you on the head, this can be a hard one for a lot of us, like, we can come up with like three emotions like, sad, mad, excited, maybe, I don’t know. So sometimes you might need to work on your emotional literacy, but to recognize emotion, to be able to listen and observe another person, and to recognize what they are communicating emotionally to you. Wow, it looks like they’re sad. Right. So that’s what that’s what the third skill is. And it sounds very basic, but it can be kind of challenging.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:38
And then the fourth skill is communicate emotion. So to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings, okay, so three and four obviously go hand in hand. So it means that you need to understand emotion in yourself, and in other people. So the most courageous leaders are emotionally literate. So emotional literacy is the foundation of empathy, self compassion, and shame, resilience. So one of the one of the best ways that you can increase your emotional literacy is through journaling. So just start journaling yourself and start identifying your own emotions like that could be super helpful to ask yourself, What am I feeling right now? Something that I do sometimes with my clinical patients, and it can, it can actually be super helpful, you can just google a list of emotions on online and like print out a PDF. So you can find these lists with like, over 100 emotions on them and just print out a list and make a few copies and then three to five times throughout the day. You just like set an alarm in your phone, like randomly throughout the day. And then circle, circle when that when that timer goes off circle. Okay, what am I feeling right now? Like, what is the motion, what is the emotion that most closely aligns with how I’m feeling, and you just you scan that list, and you get in the practice of identifying, recognizing, right, same thing, your emotion, and you just circle it, and then you just, you know, you just mark the date and the time next to that emotion. And then you can kind of reuse that sheet several times throughout the day. You could even use it, you know, across a few days, if you want, but that can really help you to increase your emotional literacy, which again, is the foundation of empathy, self compassion and shame, resilience. Also, journaling can be really helpful for that. So kind of forcing yourself to develop that curiosity and that that understanding of your emotional experience that can be really, really helpful. So the majority of people I kind of mentioned this Already, the majority of people can identify three emotions in themselves and others so mad, sad, glad. And there really are more more likely close to about 40 emotions needed for emotional literacy. So three versus 40. That’s, that’s quite a discrepancy there.
Dr. Melissa Smith 15:21
So then the fifth empathy skill set and this one is from Kristin Neff, who is a great self compassion researcher, this is mindfulness. And that is the ability to be aware of your emotional state without rejecting your emotional state or overdramatizing. it. So it’s that ability to be present and aware, emotionally, without going to extremes without going to either extreme. And that’s really very, very valuable skill. So of course, the empathy skills become more natural, the more we practice them, you’re all familiar with the iceberg. So the iceberg is a metaphor for emotions is that it’s a metaphor for a lot of things, but you just see the tip of the iceberg. So maybe just the emotions of anger, or silence at the surface. And we can often see or experience anger or shutting down on the surface of ourselves or others. But of course, anger and shutting down are common signs that other emotions are hiding underneath the surface. And so we want to get better, you know, this can, this is where we think about these empathy skills, we want to we want to get more skilled at identifying some of the emotions that may show up for you, or others as anger or shutting down. So if you think about that top of the iceberg, right, that top one third of the iceberg. So it might be anger, it might be shutting down, right. And so it might be anger might be silence. Let’s think about that bottom two, third, two thirds of the iceberg, and what might be going on underneath that underneath the surface.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:15
So for instance, is it rage, is it hurt, is it the trail Is it fear, fear can be a really powerful, underlying emotion. And so anger is often a secondary emotion for many of us. But the thing to think about with these underlying emotion, so the emotions underneath the surface of the water underneath the surface of the iceberg, are often the more vulnerable emotions, these are more the primary emotions that feel very, very risky, very, very dangerous. And the reality about the surface emotions, like anger, are they, they’re, they’re more protective emotions, they help us to self protect, then and they, they represent kind of a guard. And there, we would describe them as secondary emotions. And so the work of empathy, both for ourselves and for others is to, is to work on recognizing those primary emotions underneath the surface, so that we can recognize and communicate those emotions. Because, right that’s really going to help you to, move to a place of actually, of actually moving forward and processing those emotions. But when the primary emotions are never dealt with, they stay hidden. It’s very hard to cope with them because they remain hidden. And so that’s, that’s what we want to pay attention to. And so when we can name when we can recognize a name, and communicate those emotions, we’re freed up to process them, and to move forward. And that paves the path to resilience. And so, that’s the key to remember there. And the other thing is that empathy paves the way for resilience through social connection. And this is part of that tendon befriend stress response. I talked about that. A few podcasts ago when I talked about the upside of stress. This is part of altruism. It’s also can be part of stress inoculation. But when we can move toward one another, in compassion and empathy, we experienced an increase in hope and optimism in power and effectiveness and encourage and decrease in the harmful effects of stress, right. And so in that way, it really paves the way for learning for integration and for resilience.
Dr. Melissa Smith 20:13
Okay, so now let’s provide some solutions, right? So we want to really think about specific ways that you can help yourself and those that you lead, whether at home, whether at work to build in some empathy, and some resilience, and coping with stress. Okay, so now let’s talk about solutions. And as we think about this, where we want to think about empathy, and we want to think about empathy in terms of your own coping, and then also showing up for others. And all of this is to pave the way for resilience. And if you recall, a few weeks ago, I talked about recovery from the stress response, if you haven’t listened to that podcast, definitely go back and listen to that. I will link to that in the show notes. But I will talk a little bit about what happens during this last stage of the stress response, which is recovery when your brain and body returned to a non stressed state. But, you know, what we see happens is that the brain is rewiring itself to remember and learn from the experience. So stress hormones increase activity in brain regions that support learning and memory. And you know, as your brain is processing the experience, you may be unable to stop thinking about what happened, you might feel a strong desire to talk with someone about it, to pray about it, you might replay the experience in your mind, you might try and understand what happened, imagine what you could have done differently play out possible outcomes, your emotions are going to run high during the recovery process. So you might feel kind of energized, agitated, you might feel fear, shock, anger, guilt, sadness, you might feel relief, joy, gratitude, you’re gonna have lots of emotions that are kind of running the gamut. And this is all really a very normal response as part of that final aspect of the stress response cycle, because it’s your brain attempting to integrate the experience. So this is where it can be really helpful to reflect on what happened, and to learn lessons to help you cope with future stress. This is why empathy is so incredibly important because it helps you to integrate the experience. And so the neuro chemistry of these emotions help to make the brain more plastic, so that the emotions following the stress help you learn from the experience and to create meaning. And so this is part of that stress inoculation process. So really, really important. And so empathy, communicating, right, communicating about the emotions, listening to others, really, really matters. And so let’s, let’s talk about some solutions to help with that.
Dr. Melissa Smith 23:13
So, if we think about some simple ways that you can kind of help with this, especially as a leader, because you’re the one that that is really showing up for others, right, as a leader, you need to provide reassurance and guidance and direction for others. So you’re holding a lot of space. For other people, you’re holding a lot of emotional space for others. And remember, empathy is responding to the emotions of others, not necessarily the experience, because it might be one experience, but several different emotional responses to that experience. And so I just want to give you some solutions to kind of help you to cope effectively. So one thing is to build in transitions from work to home, because this allows you some processing time, so this might be a really good case for a commute. So you know, when I was first working full time, I had an hour long commute. I was living in Michigan, I was working at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor go Wolverines. Loved it loved the work there did not love the commute. But it was a long commute. It was a really long commute. But one of the things that I found and it really was not until after I was done with that work, and moved to Utah, where I had a two minute commute that it wasn’t until after that, that I actually appreciated my commute in Michigan. Because what I discovered is that that can be allowed me processing time. I had that hour to process my day and sometimes I spend At that time reworking what happened during the day, whether it was sessions, whether it was how I approach to problem, whether it was a challenging conversation. But that hour gave me time to learn from the stresses of the day. And so then by the time I arrived home, I was really ready to be home. And I didn’t fully appreciate that until I moved to Utah. And I lost that transition time. And so what happened is, two minutes from leaving work, I was walking into my home. And I hadn’t transitioned. And I was still trying to process my day, while trying to move into mom mode. And it was kind of disastrous, like it did not work very well. And so you, we want to help you build in transitions from work to home. And now I still don’t have a long commute, I have like a five minute commute at this point. And I’m definitely not in favor of adding in an hour long commute. But I have built in a transition from work to home. And it’s it’s been really good. And so I’ve got a few ideas for you, if you don’t have a commute, because you know, let’s not, let’s not add more drive time, if we don’t have to. It’s not, it’s not great for the environment. It’s not great for, you know, the car, all that good stuff. But let’s think about a workday wrap up ritual. So these are specific activities that you can do consistently to help signal your brain and body that it’s time to transition from work to home. And if you’re working at home right now, which right like many of us still might be doing that. You can do this at home, too, so that you can make this work at home. But these activities also build in that stress response recovery.
Dr. Melissa Smith 26:52
So specific activities that just help you to say, Okay, it’s time to transition. So you might do 10 minutes of meditation, to restore Nervous System balance, you might take a few minutes to journal where you can process and integrate the day that can be super, super helpful, you could take some time and just shoot the ball and talk with your colleagues right now, you might be able, you might have to do that over zoom, you might have to do that over text, right like so you might have to make adjustments. But take that time to process and integrate. That’s, that’s one of my favorite things to do at the end of the day is just to check in about like, oh, how’s the day, you know, and to talk about maybe a challenging situation, or just to check in with a friend, organize your desk, organize your calendar, organize your email, so just kind of wrap up your work day. So it helps you to process and to integrate, and to restore balance, so that you’re not leaving everything chaotic. And it’s amazing what organizing the desk can do for helping you to organize your mind, it’s powerful. Maybe you record a private voice memo, to help you process and integrate. So there’s lots of ways to do it, whether it’s writing, whether it’s doing a private voice memo, whether it’s going through a planner, lots of really great ways to do that. So the workday, wrap up ritual, with meditation journal, shooting, the bowl, organizing desk, calendar, email, accordion, or private voice memo. Next is cognitive redirection and container building activities. So these are specific activities to help you maintain boundaries between work and personal life.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:46
So when you use these activities, it’s really important that you redirect back to another activity. So you’ve got to give your brain and your body something meaningful to focus attention toward otherwise, it’s really going to be challenging to gain traction with these exercises. So for instance, like if you’ve had like a stressful experience, or you find yourself just being kind of exhausted by some of the empathy that you’ve had to hold for other people, we want you to do some cognitive ridet redirection. So you find yourself thinking about a stressful work situation, respond with empathy, and then redirect. So for example, this is family time, or there will be a place and a time for me to think about this when I’m back at home, or when I’m back at the back at the office or when I’m back on the clock. So sometimes I’ll say that when I’m back on the clock, not that I ever clock in, but it’s a good analogy for me. You could take notes, so you could take a quick note of specific reminders to follow up on and then tell yourself I’ve made a note. Now it’s time to return my return to my family.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:57
So I just I want to make a note about this. If you are working from home, you’re going to have to really set some good boundaries here. So that you’re not working all the time, like, you’re going to have to have some boundaries about where in your home, you work, really putting your work stuff away having a designated location for it, so that it’s not intruding. Everywhere you go, don’t work in your bedroom, don’t work in your bed, make sure you have like a basket where you put all your work stuff, so that mentally and physically you can close it down and put it away. So another cognitive redirection and container building activity is to put it on the shelf. So when you’re bothered by a stressful work event, tell yourself that you are going to put it on the shelf, but that you know where to find it later, should you want to pick it up and understand the situation better. And that’s actually something I tell myself all the time, I might put it on the shelf, or I’ll say that’s on the shelf, don’t don’t pull it back down. Like it’ll be there, when you need to go back to it. So you can tell yourself, not the time. So remind yourself that now is not the time, I’ll think about this Monday at 8am and then returned to your activity. So you really need to be consistent with yourself to redirect because these troublesome thoughts or these worrisome thoughts are going to be pretty darn persistent, because they’re just they’re gonna fight for your attention. And so you need to really set some boundaries there. Because they just tend to be very ruminating thoughts. And it gets to a certain point where it’s just, it’s not very helpful for you. And so that’s why the cognitive redirection and the container building activities can be really helpful. And that’s really after you’ve allowed yourself to do some processing and integrating, right, so you don’t just shut it down without any processing and integrating. But once you’ve done that, then it’s time to cognitively redirect and to do some container building.
Dr. Melissa Smith 32:07
Okay, so next skill is behavioral cueing. So behavioral cueing can help you to redirect if you find yourself distracted, distracted by stressful events or memories. So you can set a silent reminder on your phone two to three times during off hours with like a one word alert that cues you to your desired behavior. So for example, maybe your one word alert is presence. Or maybe your one word alert is listen. So it’s just something that can just help you to be present or to come back. So maybe that’s even your alert, come back. If you really find yourself getting distracted by some of the upsetting content, whether it’s related to work or you know, just you’re having a hard time coping with like the COVID stuff or something else. Some of the other behavioral cueing that you can do, especially with the transition from work to home. And even if you’re working from home is like an example is if like you’re going to go exercise change into your gym clothes signal, it’s time to leave the workday worries behind. This one might sound silly, but I’m dead serious. So get a Mr. Rogers cardigan, whatever it takes, like signal your body and your mind that it’s time to transition. So something that I have done is the first thing that I would do when I get home from work is I put on my after school clothes. Right? I mean, I haven’t been in school for a while. But I still have my after school clothes and they’re just they’re more comfy clothes. Like do you remember that when you were a student? it especially like at the beginning of the year when you had new school clothes, that as soon as you got home from school, you had to change out of your school clothes and you put on your after, after school clothes, especially early in the year you could put on shorts because it was still warm enough. So put on your after school clothes, or do like Mr. Rogers, right? Like when he got home from work, he took off his blazer and he put on his nice cardigan. So do that. That can be really helpful. That can be a great behavioral cue for you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:31
Okay, the other thing that I want you to do, and I’ve talked about this on other podcasts, but Be Wise With Your media consumption, you probably need to turn down the dial on your media consumption. And then another skill always, always always is self care, especially if you are the empathy holder for a lot of people for your team. You have got to dial up your self care regular exercise, one of the best things you can do for mental and physical health. balanced nutrition, of course, avoid extremes, including diets and anything that you can’t sustain long term, right? You got to cut out major food groups, probably not sustainable, adequate sleep, if you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re obviously undermining energy concentration, weight optimization, and overall help, that one’s a no brainer. And then also distress tolerance skills. So these are the skills that help you cope effectively with whatever life throws at you. So when we’re dealing with challenging circumstances, for most of us, our first tendency is to move to emotional avoidance or numbing, we’ve seen a ton of that in response to COVID. So we’re all susceptible to numbing behaviors, although the presentation varies, so there might be the addictive behaviors like alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, porn. For others, it’s Netflix and Netflix, binge Ben and Jerry’s, we’ve got the quarantine snacks, right? People are just burning their way through, we’ve got the scroll hole on the phone or the computer, just spending tons of time on social media, and then being emotionally checked out from loved ones, difficulty identifying your emotions.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:14
So we definitely want to avoid these numbing behaviors. And so some of the distress tolerance skills that can be really helpful, include paced breathing, paired muscle relaxation, meditation, and of course, self compassion. And so we definitely want to increase the structure. And then the last thing I want to talk about is resilience based in gratitude and spirituality, and we know that post traumatic growth can happen and it you know, it can, it can happen through connection to meaning and purpose, connection to hope and connection to a higher power. And so when we think about resilience based on spirituality, there are six specific skill sets of the resilient. And so it’s our connection to others, our experience of distress and our use of distress tolerance skills. So what what I was just talking about self care, what I was also just talking about, and our sense of purpose in the world, mental flexibility, that’s also what I’ve been talking about, and our practice of self compassion. So everything that I’ve been talking about in this podcast, are the the six specific skill sets of the resilient. And I think what’s so important to, to keep in mind here is that for you, as leaders, you are the empathy holders for those you lead. And that is that can be burdensome, if you’re not careful. And so we really want to pay attention to your self care, your needs matter, you can’t be sacrificing your needs. in the service of everyone else. We want to make sure you have a shore foundation so that you really can show up for others.
Dr. Melissa Smith 38:12
And that empathy, right like as we can show up for others and ourselves with empathy, that that can really pave the foundation for resilience and resilience. Right? Like, the beautiful thing about resilience is that it’s, it helps us to see that challenging things don’t have to undo us. And I think that is the that is the hope in challenging times. And so, you know, I hope that you will head on over to my website, I’ve got a really great freebie with this podcast that can help you identify that empathy skills help you with this iceberg to kind of connect with these underlying emotions. And also kind of give you some action tips for helping you to process and integrate your emotions so that you as a leader can really not only show up for others, but show up for yourself. So that so that you can be resilient in the face of all of this. So make sure you head on over to my website to check out the show notes. With all the great resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-54 one more time, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-54. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai