The Power of Empathy: Lead and Manage People Authentically - Featuring Elia Nichols
Manage episode 329764174 series 3339091
Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and see things from their point of view. By understanding how people feel, empathy helps us respond efficiently to any situation.
As professionals transition from non-managerial to managerial and then strategic roles, the ability to connect with people becomes crucial both to get things done, and make a vision become a reality.
Can you learn how to become more empathetic?
The special guest for this episode of PITY PARTY OVER is Elia Nichols, an actress who has worked in TV, film, and theatre in the United States and Italy, who also has built a successful career as public speaking and communication coach. Elia received her Bachelor of Arts in theatre from Tulane University and her Masters of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Texas at Austin.
Elia points out there is empathy at an emotional and physical level. We can practice empathy by using an outside-in and inside-out approach as actors do.
With outside-in empathy, we observe the context and circumstances of the other person, their body language and voice. I can put myself aside and speak less to create a space for listening to the other person.
With inside-out empathy, I experience the other person's emotions by tapping into my own experiences. I may not have lived the same issues as that person, but I may tune in to incidents that have a similar emotional charge.
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Welcome to PITY PARTY OVER the podcast for people teams and organizations seeking practical ideas for results in greater happiness. I'm your host, Stephen Matini, let’s pause, learn, and move on. PITY PARTY OVER is brought to you by ALYGN, A L Y G N.company.
Hi everyone I'm Stephen and welcome to this episode of PITY PARTY OVER. How are you today?
We will talk about the power of empathy to connect authentically with people.
Empathy is the ability to understand others’ emotions and see things from their point of view by understanding how people feel, empathy helps us respond efficiently to any situation.
Can you learn how to become more empathetic?
There are a lot of studies on the matter, for instance research suggests that the activation of mirror neurons in the brain plays a part in our ability to empathize with others; essentially we tend to mirror the behavior we observe.
Teachers, doctors, psychologists, social workers, counselors, coaches and salespeople and consultants. All these professions require loads of empathy to connect with clients, patients and students effectively.
I've always been fascinated with actors because they must embody the perspective of multiple characters and grasp their beliefs, intentions and emotions.
So the special guest for this episode of PITY PARTY OVER over is Elia Nichols, an actress who has worked in TV, film and theater in the United States and Italy. Elia is also a public speaking and communication coach, so I decided to talk to Elia and hear from her experience what it takes to become empathetic.
Stephen: When did you decide to become an actress?
Elia: I was seven years old, I saw Othello, Othello came to my little town. It was a national tour and they came to the auditorium of our local university and I think I was in the front row, and my parents brought me and I just, it transformed me.
I mean from this first word until the end of that play, I just was wrapped and I vividly remember this one moment where Desdemona was at the edge of the stage and I think she was begging a fellow not to kill her. I think it was that moment.
And I just, I completely lost myself in them and I thought, oh my God, this is real, this is real. I looked there was no fourth wall, you know, I mean I totally lost myself in in their performances and I literally walked away from that night and said I'm going to be an actress.
And I remember literally when I was seven, I told my best, one of my best friends, Becky Reiser,
I said I'm gonna be an actress and I'm gonna win an Oscar. And she said, I'll make you a $5 bet that you're not gonna win an Oscar. And I said, yeah, I'll bet, you know, I still owe her $5 because I haven't won the Oscar yet. But but I did become an actress.
And um as I said, I just did everything I could to perform. And because there was no theater from seventh grade on my parents would let me go away in the summers to New England and do theater summer programs because there was nothing in Louisiana.
And so I fly by myself to Connecticut and Massachusetts and Boston to do theater. And then when I got to university I got my bachelor's degree in acting. That's when I finally learned what it means to be an actress, right? Like how, how I actually learned technique and, and then I got my Masters in acting. So after that I felt okay now I'm now I'm an actress, I actually know what I'm doing, but I needed even the Masters, I'm a student, I'm a student. I like to study.
And by after my Bachelor’s, I remember a lot of people in my program said I'm done,
like I'm sick of studying, I'm done, I'm ready to be out there in the world and they went to New York immediately after their undergrad. I'm not ready yet. I knew inside of myself that I hadn't honed my talent enough, you know? And thank God because it was so true. I mean my Master's program changed radically changed how I act interactively changed my life in general. The things I learned there were wildly life changing.
Stephen: And then what happened after that?
Elia: So we we had a showcase as you often do in master's programs and actors showcase. We flew to New York and L.A. And we auditioned for agents and casting directors and I got a manager from L.A. from that showcase. And I got an audition for Warner Brothers from that showcase. And so I said, okay, I guess I'll go to L.A. You know, it kind of shows it for me.
And I went to L.A. And I hated it, I hated L.A. It was so not my place. Um first of all because at 24 I was considered old in L.A. So bizarre to me. You know, I I thought what are you talking about? I'm so young, you know? But honestly the people that make it in L.A. Usually get there, they are child actors often. Right?
So they get there when they are 7 or 8 or 10 or they grow up in the area, you know, they grew up in California and so they make the connections that you need to have early on. And so by the time they are 21 or 18 and can really finally play the, you know, the adult, the teen and adult roles, they have enough connections to get the right auditions. But when you arrive to L.A. at 24, you don't know anybody. By the time you make enough connections, it takes about five years, you're 29 and then you’re old. Right? So I realized that pretty quickly when I got to L.A.
And the other thing is that, you know, I'm from Louisiana and in Louisiana we eat really well,
you know we drink well too, right. I mean we eat, we eat jambalaya and gumbo and shrimp and crab and crawfish and you know drink bourbon, mint, juleps. And so I grew up loving to eat and then you get to L.A. and everybody's on a diet, you know and everybody's detoxing and everybody's going to the gym constantly.
And so all of a sudden I was going to the gym 18 hours a week. So three hours a day, six days a week. I was on the South Beach diet. I've always been thin. I've never had a problem with my weight. I'm very lucky. I just have my, you should look at my mother, she was stick, you know,
she looks like an ostrich or something and her legs do and and so but but I was on the South beach diet because that's what you do and you know, and I was, I looked perfect. I mean I literally had, I was in the best shape of my life, I was perfect, I was toned, I was thin, I was you know, I was healthy.
And I remember one day I went into my manager's office and he said Elia, you look good but keep going to the gym and I said you know what, no, there is no less of Elia than this. I'm not going to become anorexic for you in this industry and I already go to the gym 18 hours a day and I'm on the southeast side, so there is no less than this and he was like okay, you know it's just that the camera puts on pounds and I was like well then maybe this isn't the right place for me, you know and I had, I had already studied abroad in Italy and I loved it and I thought you know, I ate ridiculous amounts of pasta in Italy and was still thin, I think I should go back there, it was so happy and so I did you know, I just did and I've never looked back yeah ...
And then when I when I moved to Italy, okay, immediately founded a co founder of theater company in in english english speaking theater company and from then we, we just worked constantly and we made such amazing productions and then agent saw me and director saw me and they started hiring me and then I had a great business, I mean I've had a great career that that has been varied and stimulating and wonderful, so I think it was right, you know, here I'm kind of a big fish in a small pond and there I was a small fish in an enormous pond and I think it was all all right for me.
Stephen: I have this huge, truly huge admiration for actors because it's a tough life, they come across as professionals in empathy, you know somehow being able to empathize to this story, the character, responding to others ... they really are masters of empathy. What have you learned about empathy because of your acting career?
Elia: I think I've learned everything, I think I am intuitive and I think intuition and empathy go, they run in parallel that they are connected course as an actress, you are trained to understand people from the inside out and from the outside in and you literally, you know, they literally talk to you about that and I'll give you an example, there are certain roles where the costume is so important and until you put the costume on, you don't really understand that person that's outside in right?
So that's an outside in empathy. Whereas inside out as I understand the emotion, I'm feeling the emotion and therefore I externalize it. And so that's an empathy from inside out. Right? So as an actor, you're trained in both. You know, we were literally sent out with journals to observe people to just watch people, we watch their body language, we had to record their voices.
We I had a dialect class where they would they would make us interview people from different countries. So you had to find people on our campus. I went to the University of Texas at Austin and you had to find people in your on the campus that had different dialects. So I found a French person, a Russian person and an Irish person. You had to call you to make a monologue from their recording and study their dialect and act the monologue in their dialect in French,
but speaking french English, right? So a French person speaking with a French accent, not not dialect accent and that was actually really, really helpful and continues two absolutely affect the way that I relate to people.
There's a lot of my clients as opposed to, you know, I'm a public speaking coach as well as an actress and a lot of my clients have accents and we, we talk about that because of course it affects the way they speak English, their accents come out in different ways and we talk about that.
I wonder if you, you're like this, like when I watch movies that are really engaging, I get so into the movie that when I'm done with the movie, I think I'm the character in the movie, it takes me two or three hours to leave that character and become Elia again and I've always been like that.
I remember like sitting in a cafe in Austin Texas and seeing this woman who I thought, okay, actually that's it, that's her, you know, that's that's my character and I remember kind of taking on her posture, you know, and what the and trying like what does that feel like, oh gosh,
it feels out of balance. It feels so heavy and once you start doing that, you realize what that must feel like literally to be that person and to live in that person's body right?
There's even an empathy not just on an emotional level but on a physical level because I really believe strongly that all of our emotions and life circumstances stress happiness, everything. I mean it is it manifests in your voice and your body, right? And so if you're paying attention enough, you know where people are emotionally right? And I think all of that is thanks to the acting training and the curiosity, just the natural curiosity of wanting to observe somebody somebody and understand them.
Stephen: When I do trainings and we do work on empathy, I ask around people from 1 to 5 how empathetic do you think that you are? You know, some people will give themselves different scores and say well I think I'm highly empathetic, I'm four and three I'm not and then we do simple observation type of exercises and everyone gets it. If you have to read between the lines, what do you think is happening here? And people are so precise.
I truly believe that everyone has that ability and all that it takes is sometimes too get out of the funk of your head and just simply focus on that person get and it's incredible to see how accurate people are. People always get it truly never happen to someone responded by saying I don't know, you know people are very, very intuitive you know and you said that you know intuition and empathy go hand in hand. I think it has to do a lot with observation. Our lives are so busy that people simply forget to look at other people.
Elia: Oh so that's because I was curious if you think that everybody can be empathetic and can learn empathy then what's blocking them from not being empathetic.
Stephen: I think what prevents them different things. “Buziness” I think is a huge thing. You know, we live busy life. The other thing you got to have a genuine interest in people.
Elia: Yes, I agree. I think it's all about real curiosity really wanting to understand somebody really wanting to listen to them. I mean that's where active listening comes in, right? You can't you also can't empathize if you're not actually listening to the person because you're not you're not taking your thoughts are getting in the way or your actions are getting or your cell phone is getting in the way, right? But if you're really focusing on the other person and then it's actually quite easy to empathize and understand them.
Stephen: It’s the biggest struggle that a lot of business people have. You know, as they transition the career they go from “I do my staff”, I have become a manager then eventually more strategic, you know, leadership position, at some point it really becomes being an expert of people more than anything else. You have all the skills to let's say to read a financial report or um you know, your industry, you have enough experience to understand how something works. But it really becomes a job of understanding people.
Elia: Curiosity is quite innate, curiosity is not everybody's curious, you know?
Stephen: True. And also, I think another indicator for me is um silence. Like if I'm empathizing, if I'm really listening to someone, I live center stage to the person and I observed and you see that through silent, are you talking all the time? How can you empathize with someone if you're the one constantly speaking? How did you get into public speaking?
Elia: When I was in graduate school, they made us teach a few classes. So we were getting our masters and they made us teach undergraduate elective classes and I had to teach introduction to acting and training the speaking voice and training the speaking voice was partly, you know, a public speaking class. Part of it was literally literally training your voice so that you have more control and more variety.
But another part of it was obviously they at some point have to get up and speak and so it began there. So I've kind of always done both. Actually, when I moved to Florence, I started teaching, I was asked to teach at a university here and the class they gave me was body language and communication and it that too had elements of public speaking in it. The final, the, the two final assignments that they had to do performances that they had to do, they were basically public speaking assignments in the end. So I've kind of always done both.
But then in 2019 I remember my husband who is a lawyer, he came home one day and he said, oh what's a coach? I said, well a coaches and I explained it, it explained that they help people, you know, become more aware and they help people, you know, hone their skills and become better, empathize ear's and better blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, right? And he said, well you could do that but you could do it for public speaking. And so when he said that it kind of just clicked, I said I could be a public speaking coach and that sounds really exciting. Really interesting and I literally just did it. I went and I got my Partita IVA, my fiscal code, and I started creating classes and I just put the word out there and and I just took off and I haven't stopped.
Stephen: Do you have a favorite client to work with?
Elia: No, I'm I feel really fortunate because I have tons of very different clients. So I, one of my first clients was a politician. He was, he was running to my first clients actually. Now I think about it, they were both running for, one was running for the European parliament and one was running for the they were both running for the European parliament actually, and they had they had me coach them on their you know their speeches and presenting their campaign and so that was really interesting.
But I love the variety of my clients because right now for example I have high school students who are working on their college interviews and they desperately need practice and awareness of what their body language and voice are communicating and how to get the messages out in a concise, inspirational, you know way.
And then I have C.E.O.s who realize that while their leadership skills are powerful or they're strategizing or analyzing skills, you know, analysis skills are really good at home and they're not good communicators yet.
And so I work with them a lot. I even working with a housewife right now who's been housewife for 14 years raising two daughters and wants to get back into the workplace and feels really intimidated by that and has no idea how to present herself, you know. And so it's really exciting the massive variety of types of clients that I have. So no I don't really have a favorite client,
Stephen: What have you learned from all these experiences to help you running your business and making it sustainable?
Elia: I’m not a natural entrepreneur, I am, I realized when I founded the theater company, I co founded it with five other women but the main one, her name is Shaun Loftus and Shaun is a true creator, she is the one that has a wonderful, amazing ideas, you know, and she dreams them up and I realized she and I were great partners because I am fabulous at realizing those ideas, I can make anything happen, but I don't have the original ideas, I'm not the creator. And in fact if you think about an actor that's even true as an actor, actors are given their characters, they're given their lines. So an entrepreneur as the original idea, right? They are that that's the whole basis and so it was very difficult for me to be an entrepreneur.
Now the good thing is I have a lot of drive, so I'm not one that is afraid, you know of trying things out and pushing my goals, but I've never taken a course in business, I've never taken a graphic design course, I've never taken a web design course and I regret that immensely in the end when you get out there as an artist, you are your own business and you need to think as a business person because otherwise you don't get jobs and luckily my husband is an entrepreneur, his mind naturally works that way. So he has been very helpful, he's coached me along where you need to do this, you need to do that. He, we we have a few friends that are brilliant entrepreneurs and honestly you have been really helpful for me.
Stephen: Me, me, me?
Elia: Absolutely as a coach with with more more years of experience than I do. You're further down the line and you've been so generous to share your, you know, your processes with like processes with me. Um, so I've actually needed the help of others to, to, to get on this road, you know, but what one thing I do think has has certainly helped me is that I am good with people.
Part of it is empathy part of it is that I am naturally curious, I love people, I love to speak to people and so I am going to establishing the relationships that are necessary to get the job.
Stephen: The name of this podcast is PITY PARTY OVER. The reason for that pity party is when you feel bad about yourself, right? Like poor me, poor me. So what is your favorite way to pity party?
Elia: I don't think I pity myself actually, what I think I don't have enough time if you want to know the truth. I really don’t. I think that as a mother and two young kids and uh, you know, and an entrepreneur and I'm quite social, I love to see my friends and I love my husband and so I don't literally think I have much time to sit in pity.
What did occur to me though is these patterns that everyone present themselves back in my life and they always have and that pattern is this and I am really busy and then I do something really well and I get a lot of attention for it. I obviously know I'm not aware of this in the moment, but I obviously that manifests as egotistical attention seeking and she's forgotten about me.
And someone in my life in that moment comes out and says, Elia, you've forgotten about me and you're only thinking about yourself right now and it's not nice or aliens get off your high horse. You know, this success was not due just to you, It was created by a team. I mean, I vividly remember probably three or four moments in my life when a good friend that was literally just like slap me down. Okay?
And I I'm very thankful, very thankful for those moments because it's very clear that I'm not a nice person in those moments, I'm not my best self, but when your ego starts to really eat that up and enjoy it, you do forget about the other people around you that helped you get help, get you there right then, and then that that are important to your life.
And so when that happens, they slapped me down, I reflect um ... And I usually have to go and meditate because it means that I'm kind of out of myself. You know, I'm literally if you if you looked at like my auras or looked at you look at me from an energy level, like I'm separated from myself, and so I have to meditate and ground myself again.
Um ... I usually stop drinking wine for a few days because I've noticed that like that glass over dinner makes me more superficial. I usually have to literally stop drinking wine for a few days because I need to return to the clarity so I will meditate and I will get, I will kind of detox or if you don't, you know, just just make things simple and then try and concentrate on the people around me instead of myself. Because that is what helped has helped me a lot is is really putting my focus on others because then you have a new perspective,
Stephen: So you Pity Party Over cutting down the wine and then you say meditate. Is there any specific type of meditation that you do that seemed to work really well with you?
Elia: Yeah, I studied two different types. One is called Theta healing and just a woman I met in Florence taught it and I was really just curious to learn something new. So I went and learned this technique with her and it's really, really powerful because it grounds you to the earth and kind of the sky and and and everything in between and um I don't know, I really connected to,
it was very easy for me to visualize. I'm not a person that I've never studied meditation that's not guided. So I'm not that good yet. Um and I would love to someday I feel like at the moment I don't have time for it, but I eventually want to want to learn how to just meditate in total silence.
Stephen: Anyone should work with you, you are super prepared. You are fun. Your energy is what is the word is cathartic? I think anyone shoot him should contact you and thank you so much for doing this with me.
Elia: This is so much fun and I think anybody should hire you as well because you are one of the most prepared and empathetic person people I've ever met in my life and I have to say that you're one of the best listeners that I've ever met.
Stephen: Oh wow, that's a huge compliment!
Stephen: Thank you for listening to this episode of PITY PARTY OVER I invite you to discover Elia's programs on presentation techniques, soft skills and nonverbal communication at elianichols dot com. Elia is E L I A and Nichols is N I C H O L S.com. You can also reach Elia via email, Linkedin and Instagram. You can find Elia's contact information in this episode's notes.
As professionals transition from non managerial to managerial and then strategic roles, the ability to connect with people becomes crucial both to get things done and make a vision become a reality.
A good starting point to develop empathy is to become aware of those characters in movies and TV shows that deeply resonate with you.
As Elia pointed out in the episode, there is empathy at an emotional and physical level. We can practice empathy by using an “outside-in” and an “inside-out” approach as actors do.
With “outside-in” empathy, we observe the context and circumstances of the other person, their body language and voice. I can put myself aside and speak less to create a space for listening to the other person.
With “inside-out” empathy I experienced the other person's emotions by tapping into my own experiences. I may not have lived the same issues as that person, but I'm a tune in two incidents that have a similar emotional charge.
If you have any questions pertaining how to develop empathy, let's talk. You can find my content information in this episode's notes. If you enjoy this content, you may subscribe to my podcast or blog pd party over and we can also connect on Twitter and Linkedin.
I invite you to visit our website algyn.company. ALYGN is spelled A L Y G N.company, where you can find many routes for managerial and leadership development.
Be happy be well and until we connect again, thank you for listening.