“You were a bit harsh in there. Everything OK?”

Hallway feedback after a board meeting from a well-intended colleague can serve as both a gift and wake-up call.

Our best intentions to behave well can be drowned out by the challenges that come with a senior executive role. Everyday performance stress, board pressure, the sound of competitive footsteps, financial concerns, or the common gnawing fear of failure, can be enough to numb emotional intelligence. Lavishing in the exhilarating spotlight of power and control can have a similar effect.

Often the first things to slip are our levels of patience, acceptance, and the willingness to relate to how others are thinking and feeling. We know that productive relationships are key to business success, so the ramifications of lagging EQ skills can be serious.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, author of Hit Refresh, shared his thoughts in a LinkedIn blog post, where he recounted his hope that a main takeaway from his book would be that we appreciate “The power of taking everyday action, driven by empathy”.

If empathy is the key fuel powering great interactions and business outcomes, what can we do when our personal care-factor tank is low, when our ability to be sensitive and responsive to the values, thoughts and needs of others, is fading?

Simply reboot.

Here are five ways to refresh your ‘empathy app’ and ensure that your soft-skills software, is reinstalled with an upgrade:

  1. Envision the ideal

    Of the great leaders that you’ve known, who’s a good role model? What attributes do they use to generate effective relationships? Under pressure, what does empathy look like on them? What characteristics and strengths do you already have and which could you emulate?

  2. Become self-aware

    Using your ‘ideal’ as a benchmark, observe yourself during interactions (without harsh judgement). Notice your thoughts, emotions, behaviour and speech. Try to work out how others are responding to you. What effect are you having on them? Do your intentions match your impact?

  3. Shift perspectives

    Empathy is that intangible skill that allows us to see a situation from someone else’s vantage point and, when we do, they feel valued and heard. Mind-meld with them, stand in their shoes, and see through their eyes, then be open and flexible to a change in direction to create a positive outcome that suits both parties.

  4. Be curious

    One of the most effective techniques for managing our need to control a discussion or to calm our defensiveness is to ask questions. Make an effort to get a broader understanding of the other person’s reality. This distracts our ego and helps us refocus on a more productive and collaborative approach.

  5. Bridge the Gap

    When you experience a conflict trigger, take a slow breath to create a space between your reactive ‘emotion’ and your actual response.

    ‘Bridging the gap’ provides the time you’ll need to respond with intention; to halt what would be a harmful knee-jerk reaction and replace it with a more constructive discussion based on what you value most as a positive outcome to the conversation.

Daniel Pink, author of the new Book WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing says it well: “…Empathy is hard to outsource and automate but it makes the world a better place”.