By Whom?

We sometimes resent
not being heard by someone,
unaware
that the reason why they won’t hear us
is because
they are in dire need
to be heard by us.

We sometimes resent
not being supported by someone,
unaware
that the reason why they won’t support us
is because
they are in dire need
of our support.

We sometimes resent
not being respected by someone
unaware
that the reason why they won’t respect us
is because
they are in dire need
of our respect.

By whom
will this Gordian Knot
be severed?

Happy Parents, Happy Kids

10 years ago,
my mother
realized empathy with herself
and discovered
that all this time
she had unconsciously assumed
she had to do what she felt
was not worth doing,
only
to make others happy.

Ironically,
once she felt
she was given permission
to stop doing these things,
those around her
felt happier.

Why?

Because
She behaved toward them
less out of the resentment
left over
from doing so many things
out of obligation.

Something similar
happens in leadership.

Some founders I coach
started out thinking
it was their responsibility
to make everyone around them
happy.

A tall order.

Especially so,
because behaviors arising
from the tension they held
from that very sense
of responsibility
was contributing
to the unhappiness
of those around them.

But they needed permission
to invest the time and effort
to manage their own tension.

Because it felt selfish
to do so.

So instead,
they chose
to be strong.

The saying,
“Happy parents,
Happy kids”
is not a permission
to be selfish.

It is an invitation
to journey into
the vulnerable
and creative process
of survival
together
by striving
to be the best support
we possibly can
for each other.

Still a tall order,
but together.

The Journey of Three Emotions

When we, as founders—
especially those with humane intentions—
work to fertilize change in our organizations,
3 types of emotions often rise up
in ourselves:

  1. Overwhelm
  2. Anxiety (also Worry / Doubt / Concern / Fear)
  3. Frustration (or Anger)

When we don’t spend the time
to realize empathy with ourselves
in relation to these emotions,
these can easily develop into:

  1. Sense of Isolation
  2. Hopelessness
  3. Helplessness

Which, over time, can calcify as:

  1. Sense of Betrayal
  2. Shame
  3. Resentment (or Contempt)

Hyper-Empathizing with Our Companies

When we, as parents, hyper-empathize with our children,
The children’s lives feel like our own.

Similarly,
When we, as founders, hyper-empathize with our companies,
the companies’ lives feel like our own.
So much so that we’re willing to sacrifice our health to keep them alive.

Sacrificing our health to keep our company alive
Can produce behaviors critical to the well-being of our company
In its early stages of development.

But as our company develops—as do our children—
Some of our “sacrificial” behaviors born out of care
Can also stifle its development,
Not to mention fuel our frustration, resentment, and disappointment,
As we can’t help but take everything personally,
When we hyper-empathize.

Being Empathic vs Being Nice

Let us not confuse being nice with being empathic.

Being nice aims to conform our behaviors
to static images defined by social norms.
Being empathic aims to custom design behaviors
to fit the specifics of self and other in interaction.

Being nice judges
what behaviors are absolutely good or right.
Being empathic (re)discovers
what behaviors are good or right for which context
of self and other in interaction.

When people respond negatively to our being nice,
we may feel appalled,
maybe even resentful of how ungrateful they seem.
When people respond negatively to our being empathic,
we may feel curious,
maybe even eager to learn how to design new behaviors.
Behaviors better fit for the context of self and other in interaction.

Leveraging Resistance

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.

How Role Perception Blocks Our Appreciation

Perceiving people merely in their roles makes it easy for us to take them for granted in that moment.

You’re my mother, of course you cook for me.
You’re my child, of course you obey my orders.
You’re my employer, of course you pay me.
You’re my employee, of course you work hard for me.
You’re a doctor, of course you cure my ill.
You’re my patient, of course you do what I tell you.

The more we strip away the roles and see eye-to-eye, as human beings, the easier it is to appreciate each other.
The less appreciated we feel, the more resentment we let build in our relationship.
The more resentment we let build in our relationship, the more difficult it is to perceive beyond the roles.

Thus forms a vicious cycle.

An Alternative to Problem Solving

Most of us were trained
to problem solve.

Many also assume—
incorrectly—
that problem solving
is the best form of help
we can offer.

Such training and assumption
can serve us well
and poorly.

Because sometimes—
despite our best intentions—
problem solving
makes things worse.

If you’ve been accused
of being selfish,
lacking empathy,
or not caring,
despite your best efforts
to help your spouse
by solving their problem
you know what I mean.

When problem solving
makes things worse,
may we return
to our intention to help,
so as to learn
new choices.

Choices
that are actually helpful.
Choices
that improve things.
Choices
other than
problem solving.

Care is Not the Only Fuel for Realizing Empathy

One of the most important things we learn
in our journey
of realizing empathy

is that our care
can actually get in the way
of realizing empathy.

Care is good,
but as a fuel for realizing empathy,
it often burns too quickly.

And once it burns out,
what’s left
are residues
of bitterness,
frustration,
and resentment.

Appreciation
is an alternative fuel
for realizing empathy.

It is not an intuitive fuel to use.
It is also not as strong.
But it is powerful enough
in most cases.
It is also more sustainable.

There are different fuels
we can choose to use
when working towards
realizing empathy.

Let us choose
appropriately.


p.s: My colleague Julia Dorbic was gracious enough to interview me on a related topic called Bringing Design to Human-Human Interactions​.