A black and white sketch of Mahatma Gandhi
The word community with associated words

I have watched how we have reacted and adapted to the Covid-19 pandemic. What has struck me most is the surge in fellowship, mutual support and community spirit. But what about when this lockdown eases and we drift back to our new working world? I say "new" as I don't believe we will ever get back to where we were and, in some ways, I hope we don’t.

Why? Because we seem to have developed a more considerate and empathetic approach to each other. We now welcome opinions more readily. We accept that others may not be as we are, so we have become more patient and accepting. We’re more tolerant, more helpful and less bureaucratic (mostly), and we make quicker decisions than before. We are doing so much better with each other than we were, so don't let that slow or stop – help it grow.

How do we keep these behaviours post-pandemic? First, we need to identify what has been different in how we have all behaved recently, how it was different, why it was different, the positive impact and positive feeling it had, and therefore why it must continue.

Then, we need to package it up and inoculate ourselves with it like the vaccine we are so desperately trying to create to stop Covid-19. We need a social vaccine to fend off all those negative behaviours; the things that bogged us down before, the social blocks we allowed to exist because we failed to challenge them, and all the things that stopped people from saying what they wanted or needed to say.

It’s time for the Moccasin Approach. The advice to “walk a mile in their moccasins” is a reminder to practice empathy. Often cited as a Native American saying, the line was probably first expressed in the 1895 poem Judge Softly and is a plea for understanding someone's experiences, challenges and thought processes. It asks us to make a conscious effort to see things from the perspective of others before we communicate with them. And that is the essence of the Moccasin Approach.

The Moccasin Approach is not a cure-all; we won't change all negative behaviour immediately. But a shot of the Moccasin Approach is, in our opinion, what we need to do the job. It will help people understand the detrimental effect their negative behaviour can have on others and their organisation's goals.

Positive actions infect others with positivity; people are motivated to improve their own performance which, in turn, improves their behaviour to others.

This thinking will help people behave better and truly live the values organisations have on their websites and walls, by demonstrating the behaviours they proudly say their people exhibit. Organisations need all their people to evidence their values and behaviours by living them daily and monitor them to ensure they do so. Behaviour breeds behaviour.

When we, consciously or unconsciously, block people from saying what they honestly think because of how we behave towards them, or the fear we instil in them, we are letting the sands of "clean communication" and information slip through our fingers. That’s a catastrophe!

Let’s take this great camaraderie and social spirit we’ve all embraced recently and build on it to light the fires in leaders, managers and all our colleagues. Help it spread through our organisations and between organisations across the world. This improvement in our behaviour has produced some heart-warming outcomes which are fantastic for mental health, but they have also improved efficiency and effectiveness – so please, help it spread. Raise the barriers! 

If you can make a difference as a leader or a manager, then capitalise on this and drive this thinking forward. If you are not a leader or manager, don’t think you are unable to bring about such change – you are.

Gandhi said:

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a person changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards them. We need not wait to see what others do."

If I may, I’ll take the liberty of adding: “Let's change our nature right NOW!”

Regardless of our role or seniority, we all have the ability to bring about change, to start a movement, just put it out there, believe in it and help it evolve. Dare I say, make it “viral”?

How does the Moccasin Approach work? All the positive thinking, the extra consideration and the newfound empathy sits beautifully within Emotional Intelligence (EI) and particularly our Moccasin Approach.

If you have met me, you’ll know of my passion for EI and how impactful I believe it can be. I have read and studied it for years and completed my master’s degree on the impact of EI on Leadership and Management in July 2019. But I also know just how challenging it can be for many people to put into practice. By the way, we all have some EI already, so even if you think your EI falls short in some areas, then fear not. Unlike IQ, it is something we can develop, given time and effort.

These recent behavioural improvements of more compassion, care and unity are oozing with the ingredients which make up the Moccasin Approach. This approach asks us to develop a mindset or even adopt a philosophy of how we work with others. It takes that saying of walking in another person’s moccasins (or shoes) and asks us to do exactly that, before we interact, lead, manage or even communicate with others.

It includes four areas of EI and some underlying aspects of each:

1.Self-awareness

‍    •    How aware are we of the triggers which change our behaviour towards others?

‍    •    What changes occur in our behaviour towards others due to these triggers?

‍    •    How do our follow-on behaviours affect others?

‍    •    How do our follow-on behaviours change the behaviours of others?

2.Self-management

‍    •    What do we do to discover hidden triggers and how they affect our behaviours?

‍    •    Once we identify them, how can we reduce the impact they have and develop strategies on how best to cope with them?

‍    •    What checking mechanism do we have to ensure we are making progress?

‍    •    What self-awareness practices are we undertaking to become more self-aware?

3.Social awareness

‍    •    What are the triggers of those we communicate with (work, socially and at home)?

‍    •    How do they manage their triggers (or are they completely unaware)?

‍    •    What impact do their follow-on behaviours have on others and me?

‍    •    If necessary, how should I address these?

‍    •    What are their dreams, goals, fears, loves, hates, frustration points…?

‍    •    How can I help manage their triggers by how I approach/communicate with them?

‍    •    How well have I let them get to know me and my triggers?

4.Relationship management

‍    •    How can I use what I know from social awareness to develop my relationships?

‍    •    How do I best approach individuals to help us build relationships with others?

‍    •    Am I authentic with everyone (and true to myself)?

‍    •    What, if anything, is holding me back (fear of being “me”, fear of repercussions from being open and honest with peers, managers and leaders)?

These are just some of the ingredients required to make a great communicator, manager, leader and, of course, a great human being. The real twister for you to get your head around is: we all use aspects of it differently.

The Moccasin Approach mindset helps us create and develop stronger relationships throughout our organisations, families and social connections. Still, each of us has our limits and preferences of what we share and discuss, so we'll all handle this differently.

The word "Sawubona" is, I believe, a Zulu greeting which means "I see you, you are important to me and I value you". We must learn to see others in this mindset, so regardless of who you are in the organisation, irrespective of your importance, race, gender, religion or anything else, I welcome and see “you” and I accept “you”. I will make an effort to understand how you think, and I will do my best to adapt to how I interact with you.

My experience tells me that people and their behaviours cause most of the issues in the workplace. Examples include consciously or unconsciously:

  • avoiding total honesty born from a fear of speaking out
  • guarding against transparency as it could expose us
  • worrying that empathy may be seen as a weakness
  • being inconsiderate and disrespectful towards others
  • demonstrating inequality and indifference
  • protecting what we are accountable for by not addressing known issues.

EI is an excellent solution for all such things.

Ask yourself this: if you were the person in charge of your organisation, accountable for everything, and despite your best efforts an important project nosedived, you’d be most frustrated. But, if you later discovered it was because you were not given the honest opinions from your close advisers, then there's something is wrong, and it needs fixing now!

It's possible that members of your senior team are not speaking honestly, or their reports were not speaking honestly to them. If that is the case, then before you seek to chastise anyone, ask yourself: why? Why are your direct reports worried about telling you the truth, how do they think you will react, what has your previous behaviour taught them? Are those who report to your direct reports too scared to tell them the truth, what has made them behave like this? If people are blocking the passage of clean information, it needs to be fixed – and fast. The example of how things will work in the future must come from the top down.

If you believe in this thinking, ask your senior leadership to write a short motivational paper explaining how the organisation is going to push this new road map forward. How it will become a new way of open, honest and transparent “clean communication”.

Ask for the unvarnished truth, and keep that going. The ROI can be staggering, with improved organisational culture and retention levels going through the roof.

Alternatively, keep ignoring the underlying behavioural issues which you know exist and are allowed to persist! But, if you decide to permit this, then you also accept the consequences! These include - losing great people, performance issues, a lack of camaraderie between colleagues, dysfunctional teams, lack of inter-team co-operation, and an unspoken resentment between people, managers and leaders due to the fear of repercussions. Ringing any bells yet?

Any successful relationship relies on many ingredients, but one of the key ones for me is this: it’s all about the investment of “you” in “them”.

We should not have to push people to come with us, nor should we have to pull them with us, but ideally, because of how we inspire and make them feel, we will bring them with us.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, 

but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

~ Maya Angelou ~


A syringe with the anti virus called Moccasin Approach
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The word empathy and associated words
A road from start to finish with various bends to navigate

Written by - Mac Macdonald

Mac runs LaPD Solutions Ltd (Learning and Performance Development)

LaPD Solutions is an organisation offering EI-based solutions to help your people work together through an organisational culture based on values and measured underpinning behaviours.

07968 865 007

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To contact us please click here to email Sophie or feel free to contact Mac directly for a chat on 07968865007 to ask any questions you may have.