I love watching soccer and religiously follow my favourite club’s exploits – FC Barcelona is “my team”. Their style, skill, finesse on the ball and the brand that they represent seem to lift the game of football to new heights. I am generally proud of them.
Imagine, however, this scene– Lionel Messi scores a magnificent goal. As you well know, immediately the crowd roars with delight, and ten other team mates come running over and hug, “high-five” and celebrate with the goal-scorer. Imagine, too, Xavi coming up to Messi at that moment and saying: “Hey, Lionel, remember when I scored that goal against Real Madrid”? It would be totally inappropriate for Xavi to do this – perhaps he can relate the way he scored at the post match debrief or at the next coaching session, but not while everyone, including Messi, are still celebrating the goal that Messi has just scored.
Wherever I travel, I find that people struggle to identify with emotion that is being expressed by others, either positive or negative emotion. They seem to have a need of introducing “their story”, almost as if their story is more important than the one just expressed, thereby showing disrespect for the “story” of the other person. This puts the other person down, minimising the emotional impact of what is being conveyed and downgrading the importance of the space the emotion occupied at the time when the person told the story.
Identifying with emotion being expressed by others is not just an important communication skill, but also an imperative leadership ability. Leaders need to understand their followers, particularly their emotional context, if these same leaders are to be effective in taking the followers along with them on the leadership journey. Emotional identification is a critical ingredient to form good ties with each follower and paramount if success is to be achieved.