A case for empathy

Over the past year we have been experiencing health issues with my youngest daughter.  Nothing serious, but certainly sleep interrupting  (for the whole family).  Turns out that, without sleep, moms and dads are cranky and, when feeling badly, toddlers are difficult.  Who knew?  Interesting thing about these health issues, is that since they were not severe, often people were quick to blame “the terrible twos“. 

Since I’m the mom, I found myself becoming protective, convinced that it was not that I had a terrible baby, but that she was feeling badly and that everyone had better cut her a break.  Over the last four weeks, I feel I have been validated in my position, for while we do have our moments, our girl has been feeling much better and everything about parenting has gotten easier.

As I look back over the past 6 years of my life, I realize that I’ve been muddling through with some serious personal ups and downs, that have impacted my behavior at work.  I also have observed the same in my co-workers.  While some have also been due to hormones and sleep deprivation [in the case of those with small children] others have been the result of family and personal situations that have made their lives more difficult.  While I would never want to suggest that anyone is exempt from being responsible for their own behavior, I do encourage us all to attempt to have empathy for those that we work with.  When working with others who are being difficult, it might not hurt to consider, that maybe they are under personal challenges that exceed your own.

I agree with Wally who points out that people are not interchangeable parts.  We cannot think of them as just cogs in our business.  We need to embrace the three dimensional nature of people in the workforce.  It is our human condition that makes us more effective employees but it is also our human condition that gives us flaws.  As we observe those flaws in ourselves and others, I recommend that we channel our mother-instinct (and yes I mean this in a gender neutral way) and remember to believe the best.   By doing so you will avoid having your own behavior deteriorate and in the end you might just be able to say “I told you so”.  I think Randy Pausch’s last lecture summed it up nicely:

“Find the best in everybody. …you might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.”



4 thoughts on “A case for empathy

  1. Very good advice! To do this managers will need to view & treat their employees as people. They will also need to spend sometime getting to know them on a personal level as well. The “unexpected” upshot of this will be a more engaged & loyal workforce. which isn’t that bad an outcome :-).

  2. exactly so. Seems that there is an “everything I need to know about management I learned in Kindergarten” message here somewhere…

  3. One of the best qualities children possess is the ability to empathize with others. As we get older I think we actually learn to be less empathetic. I think you’re absolutely right that we should start from a point of trust – assume the best about a person’s intentions – even when our experience tells us otherwise. Empathy, compassion and kindness are qualities that benefit us all when they are given freely and in great abundance.

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