Sunday, August 10, 2008

Read More Novels, Build Empathy

When there is so much to work on to become a more effective leader, it’s heartening to find something that’s easy. Empathy, a form of social intelligence, is a desirable capability for leaders and managers. How to become more empathetic remains an enigma for many.

One very effective way is to work on “being present” with another. This is commonly wrapped up in the term “active listening”. Those who meditate naturally build their capacity to be present as they “listen” to their breathing and observe their thoughts. But, if you don’t meditate in the formal sense, how else can you add to your empathy acumen? Researchers at the University of Toronto have found out one way to do so.

They contend that reading fiction of any kind will elevate social intelligence. Keith Oakley a professor of Psychology explains that when we read fictional stories we are temporarily allowing ourselves to become another person. Presumably, our minds follow the characters and how they view the world. Since the spectrum of characters in any one novel varies from our own, the various personalities to which we are subjected literally loosen us up. We “walk in their shoes” and as a result we become a little less rigid. At a neurological level, when we see the world through the eyes of another, we are stimulating the parts of our brains that govern empathy.

So, this suggests that when you are particularly frazzled by the actions of others, make sure you have a novel on hand at work not just at home. Find a quiet spot and settle in for a little read. Come back refreshed and with a better balanced perspective!

No comments: