The barriers to empathetic leadership can be overcome. When leaders become irritated by those they consider time wasters, it is because they have too much on their plate and cannot cope with another issue. Leaders need support so that they are not overwhelmed by time wasters. A 10 minute appointment is not long enough and those bothered by time management issues find it difficult to be empathetic. Others get caught up in the current agenda. Some leaders are fixers of problems and get frustrated if they can’t solve the problems for people. If you cannot solve a problem you can still be there and listen to them, allowing them to share their feelings. One leader felt frustrated that a widow should have been able to move on 4 years after the bereavement and felt she would have felt better if she had followed his many suggestions! Elaine helped the leader by telling him to do a role play as though he were the woman and Elaine responded in the way he had then, the role play was repeated with her questions and listening to the problems. Elaine asked him then which approach he found more helpful and he agreed that her approach made him feel much more comfortable.
On one occasion Elaine had gone to Sri Lanka together with an organisation who had come to assess the needs of the bereaved Tamils, who had lost their men folk in the Tsunami, and were living in shacks, rather in limbo with no real help having been given for them to rebuild their lives. One woman had lost all her family and they had photos to share; what shocked Elaine was that the photos were all of corpses of men, a child of 6 and even a baby who had drowned in the Tsunami, having been unable to escape. Elaine could only sit and sob and everyone cried. Apparently when it was obvious the Tsunami was approaching the men had been on the beach working and shouted up to the women and children to run to high ground as quickly as possible which had saved their lives; the men ran too and climbed up palm trees, but the water had come up too high and they were all drowned. The men had died in the place of the women and Elaine spoke about Jesus who gave his life for us; she was criticised as she was not supposed to share her Christian faith with the women, as they were Moslem women, but she asked if she could pray for them. She had prayed for the loss the women had endured and woman after woman prayed through Jesus that He would answer Elaine’s prayers. They all grieved with the women and felt their pain.
Elaine reminded us that if we speak more than listen we do not hear or understand what people are saying. We are to try and not be defensive ready to answer back, but to listen attentively so we can truly hear the negative points, the hurt and take that pain to God, and summarise what they understand, so that the person can recognise that he has been listened too. Elaine warned against being empathetic simply to gain emotional control over the person and situation as that is manipulation not real empathy. Real empathy is recognising that we are out of our depth, and losing our control to God, asking for the tools we need to help the person. I found the whole talk fascinating and it still resonates with me.