Empathy

Much has been said about emotional “quotient”, so I thought I will talk about the “remainder” – empathy.

Over the past couple of years, if there is one skill I have had to nurture, it is empathy.

I have been asked many times over the past few months how I feel about working for large or small companies, how I felt when I transitioned from a large company to a small one or why I would want to do the opposite now.

My response has been that size of the company, barring equity-laden startups, does not matter. (All men out there… do not fret. I am only talking company sizes.)

Company size doesn’t matter because they are all run by humans (so far!!). And, humans behave the same irrespective of the size of an organisation.

Everyone has vested interests (recognition, pay raise, promotion etc.) and there is nothing wrong with it. Humans will therefore do everything to further their interests.

No matter what size of the company we work for. No matter what age. Kids work on the same philosophy. If you want a toddler to do what “you” want them to do, you really have to think hard how you get the toddler to “want” to do the same.

This is the case of putting yourself in someone’s shoes (even if they are a four-year old’s!). In other words, this is all about empathy.

I have realised that it is an immensely difficult skill to master. Fortunately, I think we are all wired with some of it. Thank God!

It’s no laughing matter though. While we may all have some empathy genes in us, we have a MUCH stronger “ME” gene.

I have worked with guys who just CANNOT see any issue from another person’s perspective. I soon learnt to apply a “zero-empathy” filter on them and take whatever I hear with a container load of salt.

Watching them has made me realise the importance of empathy. So, the proverbial “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is much easier said than done. It’s even harder to sustain over time – hence the reference to “nurture” earlier in the post.

This is a skill that cuts all roles and companies.

Are you selling to someone: ask the question – “what’s in it for her to buy from us?”. Is it making her successful at her job? Is it meeting her KPIs?

Are you hiring someone: ask the question – “why should he join us?”. How does this role further his career, even if we are the best show on the planet?

Are you seeking someone’s help: ask the question – “why should he help me?”. Does this meet his revenue target? Is this lot of pain for some uncertain distant gain?

Are you expecting transparency from someone: ask the question – “why should she be transparent?”. Are you going set her up for failure? Are you going to appreciate her transparency and offer up help to turn the situation around?

Finally, my favourite – are you wanting your toddler to remove her shoes first after getting back home from the play area: ask the question – “why should she not go to her toys first?”. Are you going to give her a star for good behaviour (bribes start early, you know!)? Are you going to keep up your word and let her play with her toys after removing her shoes?

So, the next time you are about to snap into a judgement about someone or conclude the person not cooperating with you is a “total j******”, pause for a moment and consider whether you are the bigger one here for your lack of empathy.

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