Every Empathetic Leader Needs to Unplug From People

Those of us who are particularly sensitive or empathetic tend to feel the emotions of others. We not only have to contend with our own emotional experiences, but we literally feel what others feel. And sometimes we’re not sure of the distinction between our feelings and the feelings of others.

We see tears and our own eyes fill with tears. We see anger and something inside of us fires up. We see tension and something inside of us tightens up.

The empathetic leader internalizes the notion that relationships are a big responsibility.

What does it feel like when…

  • Your team pulls on you from every direction?
  • Children whine about the choice of food for supper?
  • Students walk in the door with their head down to their chest?
  • Colleagues knit-pick every decision other people make?
  • Your team bombards you with questions about the upcoming transition?

You may be completely capable of meeting each of these scenarios with grace and wisdom, but it doesn’t take long before they all add up and the needs of the people around you begin to feel overwhelming.

Quiet Time

Empathetic leaders need to unplug from people.We’ve all heard a lot about the importance of unplugging or disconnecting from social media, email and electronics, in general. It’s definitely important to give our bodies and minds a break from the barrage of media and information overload. Taking time away from these things helps us refresh and remember why we engage in these mediums in the first place.

But electronics are not the only thing we need to unplug from. We need to unplug from people, too. I call it Quiet Time. QT is a period of disconnection from emotional stimulation. It is a time when no one is pulling on you to meet their needs or give them attention. The amount of QT you need each day depends on you and your circumstances. You may have a limited window of opportunity for it and it may take some creativity to work it in.

Be proactive in planning your QT. Don’t wait for overwhelm to strike before you lash out at everyone to get them to leave you alone. Don’t wait until you’re about to crumble under the weight of the emotional storm around you. Plan ahead! Work QT into your daily routine and have a plan in place for a quick moment of down time in case you need it.

Here are some ways you can work QT into your daily routine:

  • Drive around for an extra 10 minutes after work. You will be more engaged and prepared to serve your family when you walk in the door if you are not feeling rushed and frazzled.
  • Take 15 minutes of your lunch time to sit or lay quietly with your eyes closed listening to calming music or praying with a calm heart. For added benefit, do it in a dark room.
  • If you have children at home, implement QT for everyone, regardless of their age. I prefer to have everyone go to their rooms after lunch to play quietly while I lay down on my bed in the dark.
  • Plan to go for a quiet walk before everyone else gets up or after everyone goes to bed.

Here are a few go-to ideas when you need a quick QT emotional reboot:

  • Go to the bathroom and lock the door for a few minutes.
  • Close the curtains and turn off the light in your office with a “Do not disturb” sign for 5 minutes.
  • Use noise cancelling earplugs or earphones and use them in a noisy, chaotic environment when you don’t need to engage fully.
  • Place a wall between yourself and others. Take your work to another room.
  • Ask a friend to trade playdates with your kids or have a babysitter come entertain your kids for a couple of hours while you rest or go for a walk.

Reboot for Greater Impact

Caring leaders want to be there for their teams. Moms want to be there for their families. Teachers want to be there for their students. But for the person who truly cares, there is a heavy weight of responsibility with each of these relationships. You will be more prepared to meet the needs of those around you if you unplug from them on a regular basis.

If you feel like it’s impossible to accomplish, don’t give up. Employ your creativity and honestly state your needs to the people around you.

How do you reboot emotionally? What suggestions do you have for other empathetic leaders?

If you’re looking for someone to help your hurting team unify and restore to health so you can make a bigger impact together, I’m here to help. CLICK HERE to schedule a no-obligation, 20 minute complementary Voice of Influence Needs Discovery call.




4 thoughts on “Every Empathetic Leader Needs to Unplug From People

  1. Andrea, this post deeply resonated with me, and I am so grateful. Empathy is one of my top strengths, but it causes me to feel the emotions of others quickly and often, even going as far as to internalize them and confuse them with my own feelings. I also feel a big responsibility to steward my friendships and relationships well, and I put a lot of pressure on myself in this area of life. It was freeing to read that others experience this too, and that unplugging from others is not unkind, but rather an important habit. After reading this, I feel more free to take quiet time and alone time, knowing that those activities will help me to serve others better.

    • Awesome. I’m so glad that freedom is the experience you had while reading. I think it is a huge issue for a lot of us and it took me way too long to realize for myself. I kept attributing my grouchiness to a spiritual deficiency when I should have been looking at my limitations as a human being who simply needs quiet to reboot. I look forward to hearing what you end up implementing into your routine or if you just decide to feel it out and unplug whenever you need to along the way.

  2. Andrea, when my kids were younger and had suddenly outgrown napping, we implemented quiet time for everyone. Unless there was a special request for the two girls to play together, everyone was required to go to separate places for quiet time that lasted at least one hour. You could read, color, play with dolls or Barbies, while Mom and Dad got some separate quiet time, too, to “unplug”. As the girls have gotten older, we don’t really call it quiet time, but we have gotten into the habit that if we have a free weekend afternoon, after lunch we tend to still have “quiet time”. I wanted them to find and develop ways to disengage and even entertain themselves. I want them to know how to “slow down”. I’ve always felt that people in general lack the ability to be quiet (literally and figuratively), especially younger generations, because we are so accessible and are constantly surrounded by chatter. I hope my daughters will find a benefit in this practice as they continue to grow.

    In regard to the empathy issue, I’ve always felt like a little bit of an outsider because of my strength for empathy. I’ve never had anyone talk about it with me, so I appreciate that you addressed it. As an example, I’ve had to put a book down and refused to read it because the emotion of it hits me so hard I almost can’t handle it. I refuse to watch certain movies (and I’m not talking about horror movies) because of intense negative emotions they evoke from me. I often feel like empathy isn’t a quality admired by other people.

  3. Wish I’d had the “unplug from people ” advice about 25 years ago!!! As a super empathic extravert, in a helping profession, this is a very valuable and godly “reminder” even as a semi-retired grama! (Who still “sees & feels” others’ needs & can overcommit while forgetting to unplug!)

Comments are closed.