There’s been a lot said and written about emotional intelligence, in particular the old saying that before we can walk in another person’s shoes we must first remove our own. However, as finance business partners we also know that whilst it’s important to understand our business partners’ needs, wants and desires we’re also entrusted by the broader business to ensure we keep some perspective so that we all don’t lose our shoes in the process, so what can we do?
Let’s begin with summarising some research on empathy and perspective-taking.
The E test
Some social psychologists led by Adam Galinsky ran an experiment called the E-testwhere they asked participants to use the forefinger of their dominant hand to draw a capital E on their foreheads, they then recorded what way the subject drew the letter E.
If the E resembles the one on the right, the participant drew it so they could read it themselves. If it looks like the one on the left, they drew the E so you could read it. The E-test was developed to measure our degree of “perspective-taking.” That is, it sought to determine how we make sense of things when confronted with an unusual or complex situation involving other people: Do we examine the situation from only our own point of view? Or do we have:
“the capability to step outside [our] own experience and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another?”
Perspective taking and Attunement
Perspective taking is at the heart of how we as finance business partners can influence and impact our colleagues to drive better outcomes for our organisations. Attunementis a capability that we can develop and use to our advantage to not only understand our business partners better but to also be understood by them too. Dan Pink in his book To Sell Is Human, suggests that we can think of attunement as operating the dial on a radio, it’s our ability to move up and down the band as circumstances demand, locking in on what’s being transmitted by our colleagues, even if those signals aren’t immediately clear or obvious. So how can we improve our develop our attunement advantage?
- Sit smaller in the chair
To become better at perspective-taking we must reduce our “power distance.” You may choose to think about this like going back in time to when you were at junior school or at home, sitting quite small in the chair, ready to learn from those more knowledgeable around you like a teacher, parent or adult who generally sat, as if bigger, in their chair. Galinsky in a follow up experiment uncovered that those with a high-power mindset (where a person felt they knew best, how many colleagues do we know like that of have even been this way ourselves?) were much worse at perspective taking than those who showed more humility and empathy.
- Think heads as well as hearts
However, if we spend all our time focussed on where the other person is coming from, being too empathetic, we can quickly become in danger of being swept away. Another Galinsky led research into successful negotiations found that although “Empathy was effective,” as an approach it was also “ . . . at times, a detriment to both discovering creative solutions and self-interest.” On the other hand a more effective approach was achieved by the group who had taken into account, “ . . . the perspective of one’s opponent produced both greater joint gains and more profitable individual outcomes.” Naturally the research is indicating that to understand how we can arrive at outcomes best for all sides, we must also get into our colleagues heads, not just their hearts. We can do this by being curious and asking questions that drive to the core of what the other person is thinking, and as finance business partners this is how we generate valued insights with perspective-taking: collecting the information; connecting the dots and conveying it back to our business partners.
- Mirror to get in synch
Some of the same researchers as above uncovered an even more powerful way to deepen attunement in a negotiation scenario finding that participants who mimicked their opponents’ mannerisms were more likely to create a deal that benefited both parties. They summarised that mirroring goes to the very roots of our brains’ evolution from a time when most of the people around us were our relatives, those we could trust, to instead the last few thousand years where we’re having to cope with increasingly larger groups. In response, our subconscious minds look to cues in our environment to determine whether we are in synch with other people (i.e. do their behavioural mannerisms & patterns match our own?) so that we can trust them. With mirroring the objective here is not to be false, it’s to tap into our own nature and deftly, as if non-consiously, mirror our business partners’ mannerisms, postures, facial expressions, by leaning back in our chairs or touching our ears if they do, but in a way that is subtle enough that they don’t notice what we’re doing, and even more importantly so we don’t lose focus on driving better outcomes for them and the overall businesses we serve.
The whole process of attunement is about getting our colleagues to open up so we can better figure out how to serve their needs and wants better; in a way to understand and also to be understood. As some of the research above demonstrates, there’s an advantage to improving our perspective-taking by developing our capability for attunement, which will ultimately make us into better finance business partners.
So what approaches do you use to improve your attunement and perspective-taking? Let’s all contribute to make this another resource for other aspiring finance business partners so please like or add your comments below.