The EQ interview finding employees high emotional intelligence part 7

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E mpathy, which is the ability to understand the perspective of others, constitutes the second area of emotional intelligence. Empathy is characterized by three competencies: 1. Respectful listening, which is the ability to give careful and respect- ful attention to others; 2. Feeling the impact on others, which is the ability to assess and de- termine how situations as well as our words and actions affect others; and 3. Service orientation, which is the desire to help others. Competency 1: Respectful Listening Empathy requires us to respectfully listen to others. Respectfully listening means that we’re listening with the purpose of understanding. Too often, we listen for the purpose of refuting or building our own case. Respectful listening is especially important when we disagree with someone or when we are in a conflict situation. Through respectful listening we are able to develop a deep understanding of what the other person’s point of view may be. A deep understanding enables us to comprehend the underlying issues, values, and feelings associated with the other person’s position. Marshall Goldsmith described not listening as the most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues.1 Consider the customer service worker unable to understand the perspective of an angry customer. If the customer service representative is without empathy, the conflict generally escalates. When the worker expresses empathy, the angry customer often calms down. A simple, sincere response, such as, “I’m sorry you’re having this problem and I’d like to work with you to solve it. May I have your account number?” changes the complexion of the interaction. Instead, however, many customer service personnel robotically ask, “Account number?” Sure, their intention may be good. They can’t look into the situation without an account number, but their lack of expressed empathy may just infuriate a customer. 54 THE EQ INTERVIEW Questions to Assess Respectful Listening Q: Think about a time when you didn’t understand something in the workplace. • What did you do? Q: Describe a situation when you didn’t understand why someone was acting a certain way or taking a certain position on some issue. • What did you do? Q: Describe a time when you jumped to conclusions. Q: Tell me about a conversation with a coworker, employee, or customer that didn’t go very well. • What specifically occurred? For managers or leaders: Q: Tell me about a time when you learned something by listening to an employee. Q: Describe a time when you asked someone for information about a problem. KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING ANSWERS Listening skills have many different levels of competency. Listening to gain information helps the candidate learn something. The candidate should be able to give examples when she asked clarifying questions, probed, or otherwise asked questions, and then listened to the answers to discern information. Listening for information provides payoffs in terms of quality and costs. According to an article in Quality Progress, two case studies presented clear evidence that listening to workers can result in big payback opportunities, which in turn result in cost and quality improvements.2 Fundamental to the entire quality movement is the idea that solutions to problems come from listening to the people who are closest to the work. Obviously, managers and leaders should demonstrate in the interview process that they listen to information from a wide variety of sources. EMPATHY 55 The next level of listening requires the candidate to give examples of how he sought to understand someone’s position or actions that were different from his own. In these examples, the candidate should give examples of how listening helped him better understand the underlying issues, values, or feelings associated with another person’s position. Watch for the candidate’s summary of this situation. Does he end it with, “I still can’t understand how someone could take such a position.” Or did the candidate walk away with a better and deeper understanding? He may still disagree with the other person’s position, but he may demonstrate a different attitude about the person and his views. Also, watch for a respectful tone during the description of the encounter. If the candidate describes a situation in a tone that is incredulous of the other person’s beliefs or actions, you can bet that the same tone comes across in his encounters with others. He’s probably not listening to understand, but rather listening to prove his point. Asking for contrary evidence always adds a deeper dimension to the interview process. By asking about times when a candidate jumped to conclusions or when a conversation didn’t go very well, the interviewer gains important information about self-awareness and the reflection methods the candidate employs in the area of listening. Competency 2: Feeling the Impact on Others Empathy also means that we can “feel” the impact of situations and understand how our words and actions affect others. Our ability to feel the impact of situations and of our behaviors and words on others generates a strong foundation to build relationships. Knowing on this level means that we know not because someone has told us; instead, we know because we have compassion for the other person’s situation or experience. The coworker who recognizes the signs of an overwhelmed peer, the manager who can “see” the employee who struggles, and the leader who recognizes that the turmoil of change causes stress on the workforce all experience empathy. What they do next, however, separates those who only see from those who know how to skillfully express concern. Skillful expression of empathy depends on the person’s role. We’re not advocating that managers rescue people or loosen standards or that leaders forgo change because of 56 THE EQ INTERVIEW the stress it creates. Instead, appropriately responding and allowing dialogue to occur recognize and honor the person who is struggling. Questions to Assess Feeling the Impact on Others Q: Tell me about a situation when you sensed something was bothering a peer or coworker. • How did you know? • What did you do? Q: Describe a situation when you knew that something was wrong with a relationship you had with a peer, customer, or supervisor. • What did you do? Q: Relate a situation in which you determined that something that you did or said didn’t go over very well. • How did you know? Q: Describe a time when you said or did something that had a negative effect on someone. Q: Describe a time when you did or said something that had a negative effect on someone and you were unaware of it until someone else brought it to your attention. For managers or leaders: Q: Tell me about a time when you sensed that an employee was struggling. • How did you know? • What did you do? Q: Tell me about a time when you noticed that your staff was overwhelmed. • How did you know? • What did you do? EMPATHY 57 Q: Describe a time when a change you were implementing caused stress for your staff. • How did you know? • What did you do? KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING ANSWERS Look for empathy that emanates from within the candidate. If we must rely on others to bring to our attention occurrences that require empathy, then the effectiveness of our interactions diminishes. Did the candidate’s understanding come from within? During the interview process, these questions can help you determine whether the candidate understands, expresses, or displays empathy toward others. Look for evidence that the candidate reads nonverbal cues, notices nuances or differences in people’s behavior, or otherwise recognizes cues that indicate that something was amiss. Then assess the candidate’s actions. Did she approach the person? Did she choose to ignore the behavior? Did she open dialogue? Did she lower standards or expectations? Did she rescue the person? (More information about expressed empathy appears in the next section, “Service Orientation—Desire to Help Others.”) One candidate who noticed that a coworker was stressed by some recent software changes said that he wrote a fake memo from the head of the IT department stating that the software was going to be discontinued because it was difficult to use. This candidate was quite capable of reading the situation but failed sharply when it came to expressing empathy. Needless to say, his actions caused even more harm. They also violated just about every work rule imaginable. Sometimes the answers you get to these questions will amaze you! The person who is well meaning but unable to understand his impact may well fall short of the requirements for a job that requires interactions with others. Assess the person’s level of awareness and how in tune he is with how others are experiencing him. If a candidate struggles to come up with an answer to these questions, he may lack empathy and be unable to recognize the plight of others. Competency 3: Service Orientation Empathy leads to a desire to help others. This desire to be of service, or service orientation, fosters helpful behaviors toward customers, 58 THE EQ INTERVIEW coworkers, and others. With empathy present in our relationships, we orient ourselves toward helping one another. This service orientation or desire to help others is particularly useful in the workplace. According to New York restaurateur Danny Meyer’s recently published book, Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, “emotional hospitality” (which emanates directly from empathy) is the distinguishing factor for success in any service business.3 Most positions, regardless of the level, job function, or industry, require some level of service orientation toward either internal or external customers. However, empathy as a core competency reaches far beyond the service industry. Without empathy, influence is not possible.4 Empathy is an essential building block in influencing others.5 Great leaders must be able to understand and be empathetic to each person they work with.6 Empathy, then, becomes critical for anyone in a leadership position. Empathy comes into play, for example, when peers work in a team environment. Teammates often have both common and individual goals to achieve. Empathy enables teammates to understand one another’s workloads and contributes to service-type behaviors. If a teammate can empathize with a peer, then that teammate can act accordingly. Appropriate behavior might include offering help or resources, aiding in problem solving, or assisting in some other way to get the job done. In one example, the director of manufacturing was particularly short staffed due to technical changes on the production line, and a backup resulted. The engineering director, without being asked, offered staff resources, thus enabling the company to meet the tight production schedule. Of course, this kind of assistance can be mandated, but when it occurs because of empathy, the teamwork atmosphere extends to others and serves as an example as well. In another example, a building janitor was able to see that a guest appeared confused. He asked if he could be of help and took the guest to the correct elevator tower. This simple gesture required empathy on the part of the janitor. He could have missed the cues or simply not cared about the guest’s dilemma. The janitor demonstrated a service orientation toward the guest. When service orientation is born out of empathy rather than job duty, you have found the kind of employee who naturally wants to be helpful. It’s relatively easy to teach someone how to be helpful. It’s much more difficult to teach someone to want to be helpful. A recent study EMPATHY 59 in Personnel Psychology indicated that people who had a high positive affectivity disposition were more likely to provide help and support in the workplace. High positive affectivity describes individuals who tend to be cheerful and energetic, and who experience positive moods, across a variety of situations, as compared to individuals who tend to be low energy and sluggish or melancholy. Regardless of gender or level of management responsibility, this quality produced greater service orientation than any other.7 Hiring for service orientation is an important competency in many positions. Questions to Assess Service Orientation Q: Tell me about a time when you offered assistance to someone without being asked. • What did you do? Q: Describe a situation when you offered assistance to someone even though it was outside of your job description. • What did you do? Q: Relate an instance when someone needed help and you couldn’t help him. • What did you do? Q: Tell me about a time when you recognized that someone needed help. • What did you do? Q: Describe a situation when you were asked to help someone at work. • What did you think about that? Q: Was there ever a time when you resented helping someone at work? • Tell me about that. For the manager or leader: Q: Tell me about a time when an employee was struggling. • What did you do? 60 THE EQ INTERVIEW KEY POINTS TO CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING ANSWERS As we said earlier, service orientation is important. In this series of questions, the interviewer should be determining whether the candidate is helpful without being asked. First, is the candidate able to see the need? Second, is the candidate willing to assist? The interviewer will be able to determine this by how readily the candidate can come up with concrete examples of when she offered assistance to others. Look for a wide variety of examples. In other words, did the candidate help coworkers? How about peers from other departments? Also look for the candidate’s willingness to assist outside her job description. Even a small thing like the example of the janitor offering directions without being asked, is an example of a person assisting others outside his job description. It’s also telling when a person can determine that someone is struggling or confused and then offers assistance accordingly. Someone who is service oriented yet unable to directly assist another person will often serve as a broker or conduit for the person needing assistance. In other words, the service-oriented individual will make a phone call or introduce someone who can help the person in need, or will direct the person to someone who will know the answer. People who are service oriented can’t always solve a problem, but they are concerned enough about a person who needs help to direct her to someone who can. There are a few cautions to consider when evaluating service orientation. The interviewer will need to determine whether the candidate is aware of when he is being taken advantage of by a “needy” coworker, someone who always seems to need help. This kind of manipulation on the part of the coworker can be particularly challenging for someone with a strong service orientation. There is a fine line between being helpful and being used—although to err on the side of being helpful is preferred. That’s why the question about whether or not the candidate has ever resented helping someone is important. It will give the interviewer an idea about how the candidate balances these points. Another caution applies to managers or leaders who display rescuing behavior. Rescuing behavior results when compassion for an employee who is struggling causes the manager to lower or compromise standards. The manager may also give the work to other more EMPATHY 61 capable people to cover for the employee who is struggling. Being empathic toward employees who are struggling does not mean that a manager should forgo standard performance-management techniques. On the contrary, empathy should serve as an entrée to the performance-management discussion. Empathy will also enable the manager to build rapport with the struggling employee, thus building a bridge for better performance. FIGURE 5.1 Empathy at a Glance PRO CON Respectful Listening • Answers demonstrate he uses listening to value others • Willingly seeks others’ thoughts to deepen understanding • Uses listening as a means to learn • Reacts to nonverbal cues to further understanding or listening • Does not listen during the interview • Uses listening as a weapon to further her point • Doesn’t recognize nonverbal cues during the interview • Isn’t able to give examples of listening to understand or gain information Feeling Impact on Others • Readily gives examples of understanding how situations affect others • Gives examples of recognizing views or opinions of others even when she disagrees • Talks about self in terms that are relative to others • Uses active listening to ascertain the feelings of others • Is unable to recognize a person’s reactions to his behavior • Dismisses impact or feelings of others as irrelevant • Has difficulty thinking in terms of others; instead talks about me, me, me • Is unable to recognize how someone is viewing a particular situation 62 THE EQ INTERVIEW FIGURE 5.1 Continued PRO Service Orientation • Can readily give an example of when he noticed the needs of others • Demonstrates action that responds to needs of others • Can give examples of helping others even outside of his job description • Points others in the direction of help if she is unable to help the person • Offers suggestions or solutions to those in need of assistance CON • Is blind to or unable to give examples of recognizing the needs of others • Devalues the needs of others • Is unable to give concrete examples of actions that helped others • Talks in vague generalities about helping others • Puts his own needs and work before the needs of others Endnotes 1. Marshall Goldsmith, “Which Workplace Habits Do You Need to Break to Become More Successful?” Journal for Quality and Participation 30, 2 (Summer 2007): 4. 2. Harry P. Richard, “Listen to the Workers,” Quality Progress 33, 12 (December 2000): 136. 3. D. Meyer, “`51-Percenters’ Have Five Key Emotional Skills Necessary to Provide Excellent Hospitality,” Nation’s Restaurant News 41, 6 (February 2007): 14. 4. Svetlana Holt and Steve Jones, “Emotional Intelligence and Organizational Performance: Implications for Performance Consultants and Educators,” Performance Improvement 44, 10 (November–December 2005): 15. 5. Adele B. Lynn, The EQ Difference (New York: AMACOM, 2004). 6. Michael Kinsman, “Workplace Success Often Is Tied to Social Intelligence,” Knight Ridder Tribune Business News, February 26, 2006, 1. EMPATHY 63
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