In parts one and two of this series I talked about identifying and using emotions, respectively. In this installment we shift our focus to understanding emotions. Having the ability to understand emotions is critical in “connecting” with other people. This is perhaps one of the most impactful elements of becoming an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional. From my experience, the clients I work with who have the ability to “feel” what others feel tend to be more successful with their projects. When you can feel the pain others feel it begins to help you understand the problem from their perspective, which also adds to understanding how best to improve the situation using Lean Six Sigma techniques and tools.
How well do you understand the emotions of others?
People who are great at understanding the emotions of others know the right thing to say in most situations and make correct assumptions about others. These people tend to be those whom we share our deepest problems with because they have the ability to put themselves in our situation and feel our pain. They also make us feel better after we have confided in them. So how do you stack up against these measures? Do people come to you with their problems? Do you have the ability to feel the pain others feel, and make them feel better after talking with you? If so, these are great indicators that you understand emotions well.
One of my favorite examples of someone who is great at understanding emotions is actress Julia Roberts in the movie Erin Brockovich. Roberts plays the role of a law firm employee who becomes obsessed with a case file she uncovers related to pollutants in the groundwater of a small California desert town. Eventually, she builds enough evidence to bring a lawsuit against the alleged California power company responsible for the toxins, but to make the case worth pursuing she needs to convince citizens of the town to sign on to the lawsuit. She does this by visiting residents one-by-one and showing an unbelievable amount of empathy for what they are going through in the way of health issues allegedly caused by the contaminated ground water. She has an unbelievable ability to feel their pain and relate to what they are going through.
Understanding Emotions and Lean Six Sigma Success
So what does any of this have to do with Lean Six Sigma? I would argue that to become an emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professional you need to be empathetic and have the ability to feel the pain those you are striving to help through the tools and techniques used in the DMAIC process. If you are not genuine in convincing others you truly want to help them it will be a challenge to build a trusting relationship with those who will be critical to successfully implementing the solutions developed by your team. With this in mind how can we become better at understanding emotions? Two simple ways to improve include 1) listen more and talk less, and 2) focus on asking “great” questions and less so on having “great” answers.
For many of us it can be difficult to keep our mouths shut when getting started on a new project. We’re excited to get started, we want to quickly move through the DMAIC process and start seeing the results of our efforts, not to mention begin counting the financial benefits to the business. With all this energy built up it can be hard to keep quiet and instead listen to the voice of the customer, process, business, and employees, but we know it is vital to the success of the project to fully understand the problem from all of the stakeholder’s perspectives.
To battle this challenge we need to shift our focus to asking “great” questions; forcing us to listen for answers instead of providing them. What I consider great questions also center on creating empathy for those we seek to help through our knowledge of Lean Six Sigma and the power of the DMAIC process. The right questions can help build empathy for the pain those you are trying to help. Questions such as:
· What worries you most about what you or your team do for this organization?
· What keeps you up at night?
· When you’re not at work what thoughts related to work gnaw at you?
· What is your biggest frustration at the moment?
Increasing your empathy is key to better understanding emotions, and asking questions that show another person you actually care about their pain and frustrations is a starting point for getting them to share their feelings with you. Some other suggestions for increasing empathy is to always maintain eye contact with the person who is talking with you, and occasionally ask affirming questions such as “are you saying that…?” It’s also important to pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and the tone of their voice-all of which are giveaways to their current emotional state.
One final tip is to keep score on how well you understand the emotions of others. For example, after you ask someone how they feel about a certain topic you’ve been discussing (i.e. a recent news story, LSS project, company policy change, etc.) take note of whether you were correct in your assumptions about how they felt. Over time you should see an increase in your percentage of correctly assessing the emotions of others.
The ability to understand emotions will pay dividends in your Lean Six Sigma activity in a number of ways. First, you will show those you are helping that you truly care about their situation, and that authenticity will drive a greater engagement by everyone you encounter who can help make the projects you work on more successful. Second, showing empathy for the problems of others will open their minds to opportunities to use the DMAIC process and help build project ideas that lead to an increase in organizational performance and more likelihood that Lean Six Sigma will become part of your culture and the way you naturally solve challenging process problems. Stephen Covey stated, “When you listen with empathy to another person, you give that person psychological air.” Understanding emotions is the start to providing the air to breath life into Lean Six Sigma opportunities found by listening to others and providing an empathetic ear to listen to their need for help.