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Leadership Versus Series - Thoughts vs Feelings

Leadership Versus Series: Thoughts vs Feelings

Like my previous Leadership Versus posts, thoughts and feelings are as much about you understanding yourself as it is about you understanding others. In fact, the more and better you know yourself, the better you can lead and positively influence others.


Language Challenges


Thoughts are linear, but also logical or illogical in my experience. Thoughts are of the mind or a function of the brain. The “mind” is not an organ and does not have a physical form. People will often state “I think we should…”. The thought is a result of some type of observation or conclusion based on experiences that tend to be factual in nature. Or, someone on the team may say, “I don’t feel we should.” As Joe Dispensa writes in his book, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself,” feelings are the language of the body. For example, “I think we should move ahead with the marketing campaign. A thought like this is likely based on the fact that the marketing campaign has been well-developed, rehearsed, and refined, creating great confidence in execution. Or, the statement could be, “I don’t think we are ready to move ahead with the marketing campaign.” Again, this is likely based on observations and experiences that inform the person making the statement that all conditions have not been met. Often, the person making the recommendation may say, “I don’t feel we should move ahead with the marketing campaign.” Or, “I feel we should execute the marketing campaign.”. Is this a thought, a feeling, or both?


The Differences


What’s the difference? Do you, as the leader, care that much about a simple difference in someone’s choice of words? Experience tells me that people will often express a thought as a feeling, and present a feeling as a thought. The value to you of knowing the difference is that when thought and feeling are in alignment, the chances of success are greatly increased. And, the opposite is also true. We have all felt, or sensed, that something was just not right, in various situations. This is where listening to your gut makes sense, and is worth a delay to review all relative information. Have you ever left your home, or work, or some other location and had the notion that “I feel like I am forgetting something?” then, long after you departed, you remember the thing that you forgot that gave you that uneasy feeling? 


Thoughts and Feelings as a Leader


Once you have addressed your thoughts vs feelings as a leader, the more you can help your team flush out their thoughts vs their feelings, resulting in the likelihood that you will accomplish your objectives faster and with greater accuracy. When the mind and body are in opposition, consistency will not occur. When mind and body are in alignment, confidence is heightened, decisions become clearer, and any remaining fog lifts. Some may call this “being in the zone.”


Being an Empathetic Leader


There is a lot of thought, feeling, and discussion on being an empathetic leader. Many would consider this to be a leadership style, but not me. Being empathetic is a valuable trait of a leader but not a definitive leadership style. Why? Let’s look at other emotions in this setting:


  • Empathy: 1) Em – to be with or to be in with, 2) Pathy – to feel, I feel with you, I’m in this with you. 
  • In contrast, Apathy: 1) A – without, pathy, feeling…I have no feeling for you. 
  • Finally, there is Sympathy: 1)  Sym – meaning “together.” 


It is a regular occurrence in the workplace to send mixed messages by thinking one way and feeling another. As you lead, know which “pathy” you should apply given the situation. It is generally very good to be empathetic. How to be empathetic, according to Chris Voss’ book about being an FBI hostage negotiator “Never Split the Difference” is to be a good listener. Listen intensely, demonstrating a desire to understand what the other side is experiencing. Use Tactical Empathy, which is active listening.


I like John Maxwell’s three levels of listening. 


  • Level 1: Listening long enough for the other person to stop talking so you can say what you have to say.
  • Level 2: Empathetic listening. I am here with you. I am in this with you.
  • Level 3: Level 2 with the observation of body language. Do the words agree with the body movements?


You can significantly improve your ability to lead simply by listening in a very deliberate manner, not interrupting,  asking questions, mirroring (repeating the last 1-3 words of the speaker), and letting the other person speak until they feel that they have been heard.


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