I remember each moment one of my children called to tell me something wonderful happened. I remember my best friend jumping into her car and driving to my house to show me her acceptance letter into college. I also remember the morning my childhood friend plowed through snowdrifts to fall into my arms when her Dad walked out on their family.
I vividly remember volunteers who couldn’t wait to show me a picture of their new grandchild or share a family moment. I remember volunteers seeking me out to talk about a challenge they faced or sitting with volunteers, tears streaming as they shared their lives or volunteering experiences with me.
Do you often hear these phrases:
- “gosh, I could go on and on”
- “I’m sorry, I’m taking up your time”
- “I feel so much better”
- “thank you for hearing me”
- “where did the time go”
- “I was so excited, I just had to tell you”
- “I couldn’t wait to share this with you”
You hear these phrases, because you are an empathetic listener. You use your emotional energy to listen well and you seek to understand the underlying emotions. It’s one of those things we do for others, right?
But did you know that being empathetic is beneficial for us too?
According to this article in Psychology Today, empathy helps us lower our stress levels and prevents burn-out.
Empathetic listening helps us practice emotion regulation. By hearing others’ intense emotions, we are strengthening our skills to regulate the emotions that can cause us stress, such as anger and anxiety. As we listen to others, we are monitoring our own emotional response so we can focus on the speaker.
Empathetic listening helps us better understand how to handle stress, and how to communicate better. It shows us how to effectively communicate and work well with others. Our emotional intelligence gives us an advantage when advocating for volunteers’ and our needs.
Collaboration and Managing Conflict
Empathy increases our emotional intelligence, which guides us when managing difficult situations with volunteers or staff. As we flex our emotion regulation muscle, we can diffuse situations, handle tough conversations and forge collaboration.
Every time we connect on a deep level with one of our volunteers, we forge a bond between us and ultimately between the volunteer and our mission. We become the emotional rubber band that stretches with the volunteer and gently pulls them into service.
I used to assume any emotional intelligence I possessed was due to getting older and wiser. But I don’t think so anymore. I’m now convinced that emotional growth has come from being a #LoVols and using empathy daily. My profession changed me in ways I am forever grateful for.
So the next time you close your email, silence your phone, shut the door, take a deep breath and settle in to be present with a volunteer, remember this: You are being present with your volunteer, but you are also developing mad skills that will serve you well. You are building your EQ (emotional intelligence) and emotion regulation ability.
Or, in simpler terms, you’re becoming a more kick-ass leader.