Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his moccasins.
— Source: my mom, although usually attributed to Native American sources but could be from ancient Rome and may have roots in Christ’s teaching in the Bible.
Even though this quote is an oldie but a goodie, it seemed fitting for my three day run with aphorisms on empathy. Loosely defined, empathy is the capability to share and understand another person’s emotions and feelings.
I believe that empathy is one of the most powerful tools in leadership, business, and life. By putting yourself in “the other person’s shoes” you can have richer interactions and make better decisions on every front. I am much more effective as a leader if I imagine how my style and actions are perceived by those I am endeavoring to lead. The products that I create or the services that I provide are much more valuable if put myself inside the mind of my customers as I create and deliver them.
On a very practical level, I was sitting in the audience of several presentations last week in which the speaker had filled his PowerPoint slides with so much text that they were barely readable. Worse, each click to a new slide presented me with a dilemma: should I tune out the speaker so as to absorb what is written on the slides? or should I ignore what is showing on the slides so as to listen to what the speaker is saying? Why didn’t the speaker imagine for one minute what it was going to be like to sit in the audience of their presentation? I know they put a lot of thought into what they wanted to tell me. Why didn’t they put a little thought into what it would be like to hear their message?
Empathy can be learned (I took a course on it in graduate school). Try it. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, if only for a moment.