Cultivating Empathy

I have proposed three "levels" at which you can practice workplace empathy. The levels are presented in increasing difficulty.

Level 1: Caring Just Enough

Make an effort to talk to your co-workers as human beings. As them about their interests; what they like at work; what's not going well for them. Invest a little bit of time in people, and you will improve team cohesion. If you're brand new to this whole empathy thing, just follow these three simple steps:

  1. Collect stories from people.
  2. When someone is talking: STFU (be quiet) and listen. Listen until there is no more story, and then respond. (It is all too common for people to spend their "listening" time thinking about what they're going to say when the other person stops talking.)
  3. Refer back. Follow-up on a story that you've previously collected from someone.

It's as easy as that!

Level 2: Thinking Strategies

"The biggest mistake is believing that there is just one right way to listen, to talk, to have a connection or a relationship." Deborah Tannen

At this level, you begin to appreciate that people have different preferences for the way they approach problems at work. You begin to realise that some people are creative brainstormers, and they're always going to have four new ideas they want to bounce around with you. Learning to work with these thinking strategies, and to help steer people towards conclusions means that you can get to outcomes faster.

The risk of using thinking strategies (or any other kind of "personality assessment" toolkit) is that it can seem manipulative if people think you aren't being genuine. The rewards are an improved diversity of tought, as you tap into those different ways of thinking (instead of always shutting them down for being inappropriate).

Useful reading:

Level 3: Imagination

You can think of this level as "playing the devil's advocate" where you imagine the world from the other person's perspective. It can be overwhelming for highly sensitive people; and may cause doubt for ones own value or self-worth. The rewards can be huge though with truly creative problem solving taking place.

Useful reading:

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