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Empowered Empathy – Leading through a Pandemic

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

Over the past 20 months, I have increasingly asked Jenn

(my awesome wife and best friend), Feeling Questions.

Many of you who have experienced our leadership

training, or who have been reading our content, know

that my coaching journey has me fixated on the power of


Our research on metacognition and its power as a

leadership/coaching tool has me excited about the

intentional use of questions. For years we have focused

on asking Thinking Questions: “how long have you been

thinking about that?” “When did you first start thinking

through this process?”

Thinking questions intentionally trigger the

metacognitive process, becoming a forcing function for

the recipient of the question. It forces them to think

about their thinking. Mentoring your people (or kids) on

solutions for their problems is essential, but coaching

people on how to develop their own thinking around

problem-solving is magic! You can give a person a fish or

show them how to fish...

The leaders we train, and coach, are becoming brilliant at

asking thinking questions, but Maya Angelou’s quote

(above) adds an extra dimension to asking

questions. Feeling questions actually help me

uncover feelings! Without telling Jenn, I began to

intentionally ask her more Feeling Questions.

Here’s what I discovered: greater focus on the Inner-

Game (feeling questions are only one player in this

match) delivers greater perceived empathy! And

what is empathy? “The ability to understand and

share the feelings of another.”

I have coached many executives through this

pandemic. During this journey many leaders have

found that taking the time to tap-in to their people’s

Inner Game has been critical. Being more

empathetic helps these leaders focus on their

people’s feelings; being more empathetic means

trying to understand where their people are at.

In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,

Steven Covey shares an experience that he had one

Sunday morning on a subway in New York.

“People were sitting quietly – some reading

newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with

their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene.

Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the

subway car. The children were so loud and

rambunctious that instantly the whole climate


The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes,

apparently oblivious to the situation. The children

were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even

grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing.

And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe

that he could be so insensitive as to let his children

run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no

responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone

else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with

what I felt like was unusual patience and restraint, I

turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really

disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t

control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a

consciousness of the situation for the first time

and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should

do something about it. We just came from the

hospital where their mother died about an hour

ago. I don’t think they know how to react to this,

and quite frankly sir, either do I.’”

Covey uses that story to help people understand the

paradigm shift that he had as he better understood

the situation and viewed this man with a different


This story touched me differently. I was struck by

how often we start with where we think people

should be, instead of where people are at!

Empathy requires us to start with where people are

at and move forward from there.

This is where "feeling questions"

give us a strong start.

Full disclosure: I am not often focused on feelings. I

like feelings. I am sure that I have feelings down

there somewhere (we all do), but I often wonder if

some of my feelings were beaten out of me over my

3 seasons playing in the Western Hockey League,

followed by my 13 NHL seasons played during the

late 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. I have since learned

that asking people how they feel at a certain time,

about a certain subject or person, gives me

invaluable feedback and begins the empathy exchange.

Maya Angela ends her statement with the famous

words, “but people will never forget how you made

them feel.” Increasing our ability to know how people

are feeling helps us increase our ability to inject

more intentionality into how we “make them feel,”

increasing empathy.

Simple Feeling Questions to get you Started

How are you feeling?

How did that make you feel?

How do you feel about working from home after 18

months of doing it?

When did you first start feeling that way about…?

What sparks that feeling in you?

What are some of the things I do that create negative

feelings for you?

What are some of the things I do that create positive

feelings in you?

As you explore this area of helping people increase

their metacognition (thinking about their thinking),

Thinking Questions and Feeling Questions are a

foundation to build on. You can continue to develop

your own style of questions:

Action questions

Behaviour questions

Focus questions

Personal questions

Relational questions

Company questions

Hiring questions

Keep in mind our training concept: When I listen to

tell, I am mentoring, but when I listen to ask, I am

coaching. With all these questions to explore and

empathy to deliver… I am going to start calling you


Many of our corporate clients are engaging our services this summer and throughout the fall in order to energize their teams, focus their cultural mindset, and brainstorm processes around how to maximize their team COMMUNICATION during this new-normal.

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