Here’s a pattern I’ve observed repeatedly in my work.
If we think someone “lacks empathy”,
chances are good they think the same about us.
CEO thinks employees lack empathy.
Employee thinks CEO lacks empathy.
Doctor thinks patients lack empathy.
Patient thinks doctor lacks empathy.
Consultant thinks client lacks empathy.
Client thinks consultant lacks empathy.
Husband thinks wife lacks empathy.
Wife thinks husband lacks empathy.
It’s always the “other” that lacks empathy.
The challenge of leadership is to realize empathy first
instead of expecting others to do so.
And by “realize empathy,” I don’t mean be nice, kind, or altruistic.
I mean be willing & able to create unexpected meaning, value, form, and identity
Difficult, but possible through guided practice.
Designers have worked with resistance since the dawn of time.
The first caveman who drew on cave walls
were met with resistance from those walls
and leveraged it as the very means through which they created.
Whenever someone behaves in ways we interpret as “resistance,”
all it means is we’re struggling to create.
What human interaction designers do with resistance
is leverage it as the very means through which we create.
Until we learn this art,
we’ll feel nothing but frustration & resentment
in our attempt to bring about innovation in our interactions & organizations.
Guess what lies at the heart of this art?
Our willingness & ability to realize our empathy.
We often confuse direction with command.
A direction implies an invitation to look, to yearn.
A command implies a demand to do as told, to comply.
The two are significantly different.
Yet, we often confuse the two,
thereby refusing to direct,
sometimes assuming that it violates autonomy.
The opposite is often the case.
Autonomy without direction is often a recipe for overwhelm.
He does what he does,
for the good of others.
Just as parents,
unintentionally hurt others,
while merely trying to solve these others’ problems,
so does he.
In his pursuit to fulfill his own need
he also projects this upon humanity
and assumes that they, too, desire
to fulfill this need.
This is a fallacy.
To reckon with this fallacy
and to connect with the present need of humanity,
he has to see them in the eyes.
He has to be willing to realize his empathy directly,
not through imagination,
but through conversation,
which he never does.
Why would he?
After all, he cares.
He has good intentions.
Many of us think that’s enough.
Why would he think different?
Those of us who value contribution habitually ask
“How can I help?”
Sometimes, this masks the tiny voice inside us saying
“I need help.”
Asking for help can be difficult.
Especially when we tend to play the role of “helper.”
When we empathize, we enter a space of inter-being,
a being other than “self” or “other.”
A space, where, instead of separating roles like
“helper” vs. “helpee,”
A space where we need not try so hard to help,
and yet, the other feels helped,
and so do we.
It’s not always easy to enter this space, though.
That is until we meet someone willing to realize their empathy
A chance we may only have
if we’re willing
to ask for help.