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Are You Generous Enough?

January 29, 2014

GenerosityA coaching colleague, Steve Straus (started coaching in 1987) has a great subscriber newsletter where he compares and contrasts the meaning or concept behind two terms (creates Distinction) with the goal of creating a shift in a belief, behavior, value or attitude. Today, Steve chose the following which I personally found extremely important for anyone in sales, consulting, client services or in a personal relationship:

Generosity vs. Reciprocity (Distinctions are subtleties of language that, when gotten, cause a shift in a belief, behavior, value or attitude.)

It was popular a few years ago to use the term “give first” as part of a process of building an awareness of you in your chosen market. It was intended to trigger a basic human response to want to give back due to having someone feel they were in your debt.

In other words, give first and start the process of reciprocity. Reciprocity is real. It’s a law-of-the-universe, what-goes-around-comes-around kind of thing.

Not bad, just laced with possible problems.

The biggest is that expecting reciprocity creates, well, expectations that something should occur, something should come back. It has the focus be on the ‘what’s coming back.’

Generosity is different. It is based only on what you want to do because it is who you are. If you’re feeling generous, give. If you’re not, don’t. There is no ‘should’ in being generous. No attachment to any outcome. Simply enjoy being generous.

Generosity is not an action so much as it is a way of being. It comes from a deep, loving, inner feeling of abundance. Generous people feel part of the flow of life.

 A humorous fact is that generosity usually triggers reciprocity! Just know that if you’re focused on what you expect back rather than on what you’re sending out, it may be only reciprocity. Generosity may not be present.

 Coaching Point: Can you afford to be generous?

You may have been rewarded heavily  in life for effectively using reciprocity. But you have likely seen some punishment as well (broken relationships at home or work). If you find it is difficult to be generous, that you are always looking for reciprocity, this may come from your motivators (personal values and beliefs) which can be very difficult to shift. On the other hand, you might simply have a lack of a soft skill called Empathy. A person who lacks skills around Empathy usually finds it difficult to understand others’ emotional responses to situations and may need to adapt their communications.

About the Skill of Empathy

A person with Empathy is conscious of how his or her actions impact others, and will utilize this knowledge thoughtfully in a wide variety of scenarios from interacting with others to managing others. According to the dictionary, Empathy is “understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another person.” In other words, Empathy is understanding how someone else feels so intensely that it is as if you are feeling it yourself.

Empathy will enable you to make the most of your interactions with others. If you are attentive and understanding of other peoples’ perspectives, you will be much more likely to meet and exceed their expectations by providing the best solutions and presenting them in the most effective manner. In addition, by being open and empathetic, you will be establishing an environment of trust and understanding. You will build a reputation for being attentive and fair in your dealings with other people.

In contrast, a person with a low score in Empathy may have difficulty identifying with and caring about others. This may cause him or her to make decisions that do not sufficiently consider the needs of others. For instance, if you are not empathetic, you may not listen carefully to others’ comments, you may make insensitive judgments or comments about others, or you may discount the importance of an individual’s opinion or feelings on an important issue.

There are two main components to becoming a more empathetic person: listening to others and building relationships with others. Being accepting of one another’s professional and personal motivators enables a team to work together to accomplish organizational goals with the most buy-in from team members.

Being empathetic requires you to spend time learning about other people, cultivating your relationships and serving as an active advocate for others in your organization. Becoming a more empathetic person will not happen overnight. However, if you are dedicated to improving how you are perceived by others, you can make significant changes in your own behavior.

Someone who has mastered skills associated with Empathy:

  • Demonstrates genuine concern for others.
  • Respects and values people.
  • Perceives, and is sensitive to, the emotions of others.
  • Expends considerable effort to understand the real needs, concerns and feelings of others.
  • Advocates for the interests, needs and wants of others.
  • Demonstrates cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding
  • Takes personal and/or professional risks for the sake of others

How do you develop your own skills in Empathy?

  1. Give positive attention to all who deserve it.
  2. Establish an open-door policy, and if someone wants to discuss a problem, be prepared to listen without making judgment.
  3. Take time for informal chats with other people, being sure to express interest in their personal lives.
  4. Simple courtesy goes a long way. Be sure to say “Please,” “You’re welcome,” and “Thank you.”
  5. Be patient! Allow other people to set the pace of an interaction. If you have important items to share, make sure you do so, but don’t push your agenda to the point at which the other person’s perspective is ignored.
  6. Move out from behind your desk when you are talking to someone.
  7. Listen to people without interrupting, focusing purely on what they are trying to say. Try to put yourself in their shoes. What is their frame of reference for what is being said? Why do they think the way they do on the subject?
  8. Listen non-verbally. Maintain eye contact with the speaker. Give signals that you are listening such as nods or signs of agreement at appropriate times. Avoid unnecessary distractions such as ringing cell phones.
  9. Summarize in your own mind the key points of any discussion.
  10. Paraphrase information you have just received to confirm you understood it. Briefly restating what someone has just told you shows that you are listening carefully and that you understand what is being said.
  11. Notice non-verbal communication such as clenched fists, smiles, gestures of boredom or defensive postures, and try to guess why the person is sending those messages. Ask what the person is thinking or feeling if the person’s non-verbal cues do not match his verbal communication.
  12. Use open-ended questions when you talk with others, such as, “tell me about your meeting with Mr. Smith,” or “What makes you say that?” Open-ended questions provide opportunities for the person you are talking with to expand on a topic and let the person know you are truly interested in hearing her opinion.
  13. Allow people to disagree with you. This does not mean you have to change your own position, but allowing others to state their point of view and understanding it shows your respect for their input.
  14. Serve as an advocate for the needs, interests and wants of others, where appropriate.
  15. If others come to you for advice or help in resolving a problem, do what is appropriate and within your power to assist them. If you have observed that a particular group of employees requires special assistance or has requested a new procedure, do your best to suggest reasonable improvements or other changes.
  16. Use the same criteria for everyone when assigning projects and judging performance. This doesn’t mean that everyone is capable of doing exactly the same level of work, as better performers have a right to be assigned more challenging projects. However, it does mean that you must diligently examine how you delegate assignments to make sure you are not slighting the lesser performers.
  17. If you give a work assignment to someone, be clear about your expectations and explain your rationale behind making decisions.
  18. Be sure to make public expression of appreciation for a job well done. Don’t forget to praise the individual for good work one-on-one, but public praise goes a long way!


Suggested Activities to Improve Empathy

Activity: Investigation

  1. Make it a goal to use at least one open-ended question in every conversation you have tomorrow. If you have listened attentively and summarized the speaker’s comments in your own mind, this should be easy to do.
  2. The next time someone disagrees with something you have said, take it as an opportunity to learn why there is a disagreement. Ask “Why do you feel that way?” or say, “Tell me more about your position on this issue.”
  3. The next time someone complains to you about a workplace issue, or you observe people having particular difficulties in complying with an unreasonable company or department policy, write the issues down. Then, try to determine at least one action item you can take on each issue to try to help resolve it.

Activity: Thanking Other People – The ultimate form of generosity
Make a list of people in your organization who handled a difficult situation well. Add to that list people you know who have been working extra hours or particularly intensely to achieve an important company objective. Then add to the list people who have come to you with concerns, either professional or personal, within the last few weeks.

Once you have completed the list, make a specific effort to give positive attention to those people. Offer to help with a difficult task, compliment someone on a job well done or treat a hardworking project team to a pizza dinner.

Make sure you ask people about their concerns and try to help resolve them if it is appropriate and within your power.

Activity: Imagining How Others Feel
Think about recent interactions you have had with people at work or at home as you answer the
following questions:
Can you think of times recently when others overreacted with anger to something that you or
someone else said or did? Write down several reasons why they may have reacted so strongly. Were
there things bothering them? Were they having personal problems? Were they overworked or

Can you think of times recently when others seemed vague or distant, uninterested in what was
going on? Write down several reasons why they may have seemed to have lost interest so noticeably.
Were there things bothering them? Were they having personal problems? Were they overworked
or stressed?

Can you think of times recently when others seemed suddenly happy or joyful? What do you think
caused the happiness? Write down several potential reasons why they were so happy. What kinds of
positive things might have happened to them?

The Nielson Group offers assessments that measure a person’s abilities and competencies, including Empathy. Our focus is on workplace employee engagement. A more engaged workforce, a more profitable and successful business.

Valentine’s Day is Just Around the Corner – Show Your Generosity and Empathy

MidYearsLovingCoupleSuccess Discoveries offers individual career and relationship coaching as well as self-directed assessment-based program offerings including Success Discoveries for Couples, a self-directed program for couples wanting to take the relationship to the next level.  We also offer Success Discoveries for Couples facilitated weekend retreats for groups.

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