The Hardest Skill To Master – Empathy

by Feb 16, 2021Operations Leadership

Any growing venture is hard. It does not have to be a startup, it could be a lifestyle or a mid-size business. The faster the growth, the more extreme are the swings and tensions. It is way too easy to lose sight of what matters, end up with agenda, and kill your relationship.

So how do we survive and thrive?

It all starts with empathy. The more the person you should be supporting is different, the harder it is for you to relate and understand where the other person stands. You are ineffective without empathy. So it would help if you tried to gain an understanding of what is affecting your colleague. Maybe something in personal life is bothering them, or they are at the edge of their wits at work, or maybe there was a string of setbacks or lack of progress, etc. You have to care about their pain to be effective. There will be a day you will need their empathy.

What you may think are variables within their control might not be the case at all. Let me use sales as an example. There are certain times in the year (usually clustered around holidays) when hitting those sales numbers might be much more challenging. Your thinking that if this person “makes the calls, they will make the sales” may make sense during your typical month, but not when the school is out, or storm screwed up daycare plans, or the market developed some macroeconomic fears. Understand and embrace that. Then you may end up with a much clearer view of what this person can affect, and that is where your help and motivation are most valuable.

Create new options instead of poking holes. I know I sometimes really stumble on this, being extremely pragmatic. Criticizing is the easiest option with the highest social cost. You can insert your opinion until your face is blue and do nothing but waste time and cause further demotivation. Likely, if this person knows their craft, they already introspected and are dealing with the issues. To be most effective, you have to create new options. Think of new concrete suggestions you can provide. Maybe this person was so in the weeds that they couldn’t see that one additional option you noticed. Be generous with help. You may not always get the credit, but you will always gain appreciation. At the end of the day, having someone to go to is invaluable when you are stuck.

Dismount that “high horse.” The biggest fallacy is to assume the other person has an easy problem. Likely that is just an opinion not based on actually doing the job. And if you think the problem is easy, get off your high horse and get your hands dirty. You don’t get to say “that is an easy problem to fix,” one doing the job is the only one entitled to make the statement. Either help do the job or move along.

Look for wins other person is not seeing. If you ever read “The Progress Principle,” you know how important it is to recognize even small milestones/wins. Recognition breeds motivation. When you are “in the weeds,” you lose sight of your wins because survival instincts kick in.
Conflicts are not inevitable. Conflict, at times, is good between people who respect and value each other. But in the end, if you are in the same battle together, compassion goes a long way.

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