Step outside of your tiny, little world. Step inside into a tiny, little world of somebody else. And then do it again, and do it again, and do it again. And suddenly all these tiny, little worlds, they come together in this complex web. And they build a big, complex world. (S. Richards)

Empathy in the office?

has become one of the most popular words used by all sorts of people. There are special courses that will teach you how to be assertive but, at the same time, empathetic. We discover it has everything to do with being intelligent and, in order to be empathetic, we need to think, ponder, contemplate, use our intellect,…., probably till our brain fries. Then we’ll be able to truly understand another human being. I agree, of course, but instead of spending money on courses, why don’t people simply try to be emotionally literate and check what may happen once they agree to somebody’s request, instead of saying NO? I know, it’s an oversimplification and, for instance, when one works in a large, international company, managing people can be really tough, but it’s not impossible! Listen to people, provide feedback, ask for clarification, and find out a little about their background. This is the key element to building trust and harmony in the office.

My friend’s supervisor spent around 45 minutes on Friday morning explaining to his employees how important it is to be open to another person’s point of view and how good it would be if everybody was compassionate and considerate. Then he spent around 30 minutes in his office, talking to his wife on the phone, and, as he was leaving, one of his assistants asked if she could go home – she couldn’t focus on her tasks, because her child was ill, and she’d finish everything on Monday. Guess what she heard. True, you don’t want to know.

A radical experiment in empathy

Yesterday I watched a short talk at TED.com by Sam Richards, a sociologist working at the Pennsylvania State University. I was attracted by the title: “A radical experiment in empathy”. I thought I’d find something extremely challenging, something even I would find difficult to comprehend or accept. Having watched a few minutes, I thought – yes, I could be the one giving the speech, I understand this man, I know exactly what he’s trying to convey. It was like listening to my own thoughts.

I consider myself very lucky, as I have the opportunity to meet and talk to people of different, sometimes difficult, personalities. Some of them are older than me, some younger, a few of them, I sadly admit,  are rather narrow-minded, the rest very tolerant and open for changes and suggestions. Every now and then, however, one of them does something that deeply upsets me and makes me wonder: what were her or his reasons for doing that? What caused her/him to be so rude, arrogant, selfish, bitter or vicious?

So, yes, I am capable of putting myself in their shoes, I do my utmost to understand what their motives were.  As I mentioned in some previous posts, I usually find tons of explanations and justifications, thanks to which I feel relieved and able to go on with my life, as if nothing ever happened. Is it only for my own convenience then? Maybe, I’m not a saint, just trying to stay sane.