I Hear You. An Empathy Journey.
As I write this, we’re in a gravely unusual time: during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not everyone can work. If we can work, we are either in a hazardous place providing essential care (thank you, doctors and nurses! Thank you, grocers!) or we are working from home where there are countless distractions of trying to do this with a swarming family.
We’re each on a journey to understand how to we operate best and how others operate. It’s often the case that how we operate is very different from how others operate. Learning will never cease. We’re learning about ourselves even though we think we’ve already heard so much open chatter going on inside.
On this journey, I’ve read a useful book called “The Seven Desires Of Every Heart,” by Mark Laaser. In it, he outlines how our hearts yearn for specific things in our lives, our family relationships, our community relationships, and our work relationships. We seek things from relationships trying to satisfy those desires, but sometimes we go about it in unhelpful ways. When we understand what motivates us at a core level, we operate well with the people around us.
As I was tearing through the different desires, they all made sense: about being chosen, about being touched, about belonging to a community, about other things. Each made so much sense. One desire, though, didn’t make sense to me: to be heard and understood. I dismissed it, “oh, that’s something other people must feel.” I moved on with other material in the book that made more sense to me.
Equipped with these ideas, I continued in my relationships. I had vulnerable conversations with my friends. They responded to my personal stories. It was helpful. As I reflected back, I started to notice a pattern: they heard me. They understood me. It was healing.
In our work lives, we think there are rules against being too personal or emotional about anything among our colleagues. In reality, though, emotions are running thick at work! Did I do my project well enough? Am I providing the right service to my colleagues or my users? Am I good enough to do this work?
Understanding where our colleagues are coming from is critical for our mutual success. Do you know how they’re doing? Do you know how easily they’re completing their work? Do you know how they’re handling the stress of work in this unusual time? Do you know if they have barriers they are facing? Do you know whether it’s even safe to ask questions about it? If not, perhaps it’s time to consider adjusting the culture of the team to ensure it is safe to ask. It might be about your individual culture and openness, and how you process vulnerable conversations. Once you ask your team, individually, how they are handling their stresses, I expect each member will be glad you asked. After all, each colleague has a basic desire to be heard and understood.
I’ve encountered a helpful guide spoken by Brené Brown and illustrated by Katy Davis. Let me share that with you. Remember as you watch it, that this operates just as strongly in our work relationships as they do in our homes and communities. It looks a little different, but the “aloneness” feelings in our workplace can definitely be strong, but we’re aspiring to work as teams.
A strong and healthy part of doing empathy well is staying out of judgment. Seeing a colleague right where they are and accepting them in their position is to stay out of judgment. If we respond to them where they are and we accept them in their situation, they are more easily able to move out of a stuck-position and into the team makeup, where we are working so hard together to get the best outcomes for our software (or whatever we are making). This also brings out another one of those basic desires, to belong to a community: to our team.
I watched a recent seminar about Leadership & Management Amid Crisis, given the COVID-19 virus. If you need any proof about the importance of empathy, this virtual-seminar said over and over again: empathy was the number one skill needed by leaders in these times. They also gave an important point about how stress changes our brain chemistry. This change negatively impacts our creativity and innovation. The better that we can reduce our stress, the better we can contribute to our teams. I’ve linked this seminar below.
What are your next steps on your team to increase the hearing and understanding of each other? Can you check with your colleagues on how they’re handling their stress? If not, can you find out why? If you can, why not schedule a conversation now. Stay out of judgment. Hear them where they are. Understand their perspective. Asking this alone would be of help to the other person. If you can offer additional help, ask them if they’d like that help. No matter what, it will be a conversation they will be thankful for.