Why Having Empathy is Nonnegotiable

Photo by Zuzana Ruttkay on Unsplash

What comes to mind when you think of empathy? 

For me, empathy is all about removing barriers to understand where someone else is coming from (even if I don’t always agree with them) by choosing to see THEIR feelings, thoughts, and experiences from THEIR perspective versus my own. Similarly, it’s also being understood on the same level by my colleagues, friends, and family members. 

Of course, to fully understand and appreciate the role empathy can play in your life, you need to clearly understand what it is (and isn’t), why it’s so important, and how you can make it a part of your day to day life.  

So, what is empathy?

Mariam Webster defines empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences in either the past or present without having the feelings, ideas, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

Unlike sympathy, which often means feeling sorry or bad for someone else’s suffering, empathy requires you to feel and share someone else’s feelings without making it about you. Or in the words of Brené Brown, “it means to be able to see the world as others see it.” 

But why is being more empathetic even more important today than before? 

Let’s face it; so much has changed in the past year and a half. Within a short period, millions of people had to deal with an overwhelming amount of change. From losing loved ones and facing financial hardships to learning how to adapt to new norms like working remotely for the very first time, there is no shortage of challenging times that we all collectively had to endure in recent months. 

But all of this change is much easier to navigate when there’s mutual empathy or understanding of someone else’s feelings or experiences present. Having the ability to understand what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes not only helps you make better decisions as a professional leader but allows you to build better relationships rooted in a deeper understanding, compassion, and trust.  

And I noticed the impact leading with empathy had on me firsthand when I started practicing it with my team members. After making the time to get to know my team one on one, I began not only to understand what drives their decisions but think about my choices differently — leading to greater collaboration, a boost in team morale, and even improved productivity.

Of course, I’m not alone in my observation. Research has shown that empathy makes people better managers, workers, family members, and friends all around. 

Best of all, I have five easy exercises or, as I like to call them, empath-cises that you can do to be more empathetic. 

5 ways to be more empathetic

  • Make the time to listen actively — active listening is the practice of making the other person feel heard and valued. It often involves listening attentively, paraphrasing back what was said, and withholding any judgment and advice along the way.
  • Engage with new people — I know you might think you know what someone else’s life is like, but the truth is, you have no idea until you talk to them. So, invite a co-worker or neighbor you don’t know well for an in-person (or virtual) coffee/lunch. Instead of keeping the conversation surface level, challenge yourself to go beyond the small talk and ask them to tell you more about their background, experiences, and routines. You might be surprised by what you discover. For example, maybe you’ll learn the reason your co-worker always leaves early or shows up late is that they’re taking care of an aging family member or a child with special needs or that their commute requires them to take multiple buses just so that they make it home at a decent time. If you’re not comfortable striking up a conversation, try following new people on social media that have different backgrounds from you (like another race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.). And then do the work actually to engage with their content to learn more about them. 
  • Walk the talk — one of the best ways to dip your toes into empathy is to put on someone else’s shoes and walk the talk. In other words, put yourself in the position to experience what someone else is experiencing by attending a support group on an issue you want to understand better, volunteer at your child’s school, or take on some of the responsibilities your partner often takes on. 
  • Acknowledge your biases — I talk a lot about the importance of acknowledging unconscious biases (and taking action to overcome them) as they pertain to ending racism and being a good ally. However, owning your biases and taking action is also one of the key ingredients to connecting and building meaningful relationships with just about anyone. If you’re not sure where to start, you can ask yourself the following questions:
    • When was the last time I had to think about my race, ethnicity, gender, religion, ability level, or sexual orientation?
    • When consuming most types of entertainment, how often do I see or hear about characters who represent me?
    • How often am I in social settings where most people are different from me?
  • Take the “I” out of empathy — instead of internalizing someone’s experience and thinking how you would feel if it happened to you, focus on understanding the experience from their perspective. Doing so changes the dynamic of the conversation and gives you more insight into what someone is truly going through. 

  • Want to share your own experience with empathy or have more tips on being empathetic? Leave a comment below or send it my way at b@bpagelsminor.com.

    Want to Move Forward? Let Go of Your Backlog.

    Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash

    Whether you’re working for a company or running your own business, there’s a good chance you’ve utilized some version of a backlog to help you prioritize a list of the things you need to accomplish in the future. There’s also a good chance your backlog has actually held you back more than it has helped you get ahead.

    I mean, think about it…

    A backlog is supposed to be a list of things you or your company need to do next to support a larger strategic plan. However, from my experience as a Product Manager, it often becomes just an extensively long list of everything you or your company thought needed to be done (emphasis on thought). And the longer the list gets, the more outdated and challenging it becomes to maintain, prioritize, and truly deliver on the goal(s) you initially set out to achieve. 

    The good news? You can get ahead by leaving the backlog behind. And I’m sharing three reasons why you should ditch the backlog like me once and for all.

    3 Reasons You Should Leave the Backlog Behind 

  • It slows down productivity — the longer your list gets, the more time it takes to groom. And if you’re not careful, managing and reshuffling work for you or your team members can become as much a part of your day as the actual work you were supposed to complete, thus only slowing down productivity for everyone involved in the process.
  • It stunts creativity and innovation — by simply relying on the backlog instead of listening to what your users actually need and want, you’re far less likely to bring solutions to the table that actually matter. Because at the end of the day, the issues your users cared about a year ago probably look quite different compared to the issues they currently care about. 
  • It creates tunnel vision — while it can certainly feel like you’re getting somewhere when working through your list, the reality is that you’re handcuffing yourself to something that is doing a disservice to you and your users. As a result, this can create tunnel vision and take what you’re working on in the opposite direction of where you want to go — leading to additional rework, delays, and cost down the road. 

  • So, what’s the alternative? 

    The fact is what’s truly important will always come back up and make it to the top of the list. However, it’s also helpful to carve out time to constantly review so that you and the company or team can adequately gauge the evolution of the project, product, or milestone before deciding what direction you should take it next. At the end of the day, you should always be moving forward and never become stagnant.

    Because if you can’t remember what task you need to focus on next, there’s probably a good chance it’s not much of a priority. And if there’s a task that you can’t stop thinking about, well, then it’s safe to say that you never needed a backlog for it to begin with.

    How to Connect on LinkedIn like a Boss

    Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

    Whether you’re trying to find a job, recruit talent, or expand your professional network, LinkedIn can do wonders for moving your career forward, business, or personal development forward. On the contrary, LinkedIn can also hold you back and damage your professional reputation if the unwritten LinkedIn etiquette is not followed

    That’s right, just like respecting people’s time and privacy, LinkedIn etiquette is a real thing. And below are some of the unwritten rules that can make a real difference in your career, business, and professional development – especially if you feel like you’re currently in a bit of a rut.   

    And while there’s a laundry list of dos and don’ts, below are six unwritten rules you should know.

    6 Unwritten LinkedIn Rules You Should Know

  • Keep it professional – unlike Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Tik Tok, LinkedIn is a different kind of social networking site in that it’s designed solely for professional networking. In other words, the things that fly on other social media platforms most likely won’t pass here. So whether you’re updating your profile photo, sharing a post, or sending a welcome message, remember to keep things professional. This does not mean you cannot share your personality. It simply means that there is a different strategy here than on other networks.

  • Remember to do your homework before requesting to connect with someone new – just like you would take the time to learn about someone before grabbing coffee with them, take the time to understand someone before you blindly connect. For example, take the time to figure out where this person has worked before, what their primary focus is, what are some of their non-work-related interests, etc.

  • Always personalize your message – the best part about doing your homework before connecting with someone is that it gives you more material to personalize your message accordingly. And that alone can be the difference maker between having your connection request accepted or ignored. So, take the time to convey who you are, what you do, and why you’d like to connect long before asking for anything in return. Last but certainly not least, make sure to get their name right.

  • Build meaningful relationships – it’s no longer enough to just connect with someone on LinkedIn and call it a day. You’ve gotta put in the time and energy to maintain and foster your relationships. For example, if there’s something you have in common with someone on LinkedIn, such as shared experiences, interests, or connections, find the time to send them a message directly or comment on one of their recent posts to demonstrate a genuine interest in what they do and in who they are.

  • Provide genuine value  – whether you’re requesting a new connection or putting a piece of content out on LinkedIn, don’t forget to ask yourself: what’s in it for them? In other words, how is what you’re saying or putting out there valuable to the person that’s receiving it?

  • Stay active and engaged – If you’re wondering why no one is visiting your profile, or you’re frustrated that your posts don’t seem to get any traction, it could be because you’re not staying active in the conversations around you. So, dive in, get engaged, and stay active.

  • Want to prevent others in your existing LinkedIn network from making some of the most common mistakes? Don’t forget to share this blog post with them. And if you have other examples of other LinkedIn dos and don’ts you’ve seen along the way, drop them in the comments below.  

    Need Help Problem-solving? Start by creating a Working Group

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

    Are you tired of being a part of a group going in circles attempting to solve a problem at work? Chances are you’re missing out on a process known as a working group to solve the issue at hand efficiently. 

    So, what is a working group?

    It’s a way to tackle cross-functional team challenges by using a defined set of people from various teams and disciplines and well-defined principles to execute specific deliverables for a limited period of time.

    In addition to tackling cross-functional team challenges, working groups typically also improve a team’s operations and make the employees who participate more efficient and effective. From increasing motivation and efficiency to fostering better communication, many benefits stem from integrating a working group model into your problem-solving process. 

    However, as someone who has been involved with and led many working groups throughout my career, I can tell you firsthand that I’ve witnessed them work well and, on the flip side, not so well. And that’s why I’ve put together the four key components that can make your next working group a real success. 

    4 critical components of a successful working group:

  • Define members and points of contact (POCs) – a working group is only as good as its participants. That’s why it’s important to narrowly define your attendees based on criteria like whether they can do what’s best for the company based on the particular problem to be solved or have sufficient experience in the area they’re evaluating. Some other good characteristics to consider for selecting your participants include being effective communicators, subject matter experts, and diverse in the given discipline.

  • Develop a working agreement – the key to any relationship working is how well you can work together. But it’s impossible to work well together without first establishing shared values, norms, and expectations. That’s where the power of a working agreement comes into play, a.k.a. the ground rules that groups and people, in general, define amongst themselves to allow them to work best together. And while a working agreement can have a variety of different components, the following are must-have components every working agreement should have:
    • It should matter to everyone involved 
    • Everyone should follow it
    • It’s something everyone should revisit often 
    • Everyone is collective held accountable

  • Establish goals and milestones – once the group is established, spend some time defining the goals and milestones the group hopes to achieve. After the goals and milestones are defined, revisit the goals and milestones at the beginning of every meeting to ensure all group members are clear on what they’re collectively working on.

    • Designate an informed caption for more significant initiatives – to stay on track with the established goals and milestones; an informed captain needs to be designated who has the authority to make the final call on significant decisions. The decision should only occur after that individual has taken the time to digest others’ views. I’ve seen many groups meet about topics only to debate them, never landing on a conclusion. That’s why having someone designated to make the final call for big decisions is critical in making your working group work well. 

    And like with most things, as the impact becomes more apparent, it’s essential to reflect on the decision and see what could be done better in the future.

    Now that you know all about a working group’s inner workings take a moment to think about who you would want in the room (or on a Zoom) to help you solve the challenge you’re facing at hand. And then, go through the steps identified in this blog post to create a successful working group to meet your future goal.  

    How to Stop Being a Collaborator to Racism and Start Being an Ally

    Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

    Let’s face it, racism isn’t new. 

    And what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and so many more is not only proof that racism is prevalent in America, but that we MUST fight against it. 

    Unfortunately, the fight against racism means different things to different folks. And more often than not, it’s the folks that claim they’re not racist that perpetuate racism and racist beliefs because they aren’t willing to recognize unconscious biases, acknowledge that white privilege exists, or do their part to be a true ally. 

    The good news? You can stop being a collaborator (and encourage others to do the same) by starting to recognize how biases affect your perceptions and behaviors around race and acknowledge that not having to fear for your life when you interact with the police is one of the many forms of white privilege that exists. 

    Of course, the issue of racism isn’t something that you can fix by taking action once. Combating racism requires a lifelong commitment to allyship, which is known as the lifelong process of building relationships based on trust, consistency, and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. 

    And here are 5 ways YOU can do your part to be a true ally instead of a collaborator to racism: 

  • Take the time to really listen – no genuine understanding or true allyship can occur without the act of listening to the diverse voices for which you wish to be an ally. Do yourself a favor and simply listen without the need to comment, ask questions or get credit for the act of listening itself. 

  • Remember that it’s not about you – if at any point you find yourself seeking praise or justifying that you’re an ally, what you’re really doing is putting the spotlight on yourself and away from the real issues, actions, or needs of the individuals and groups at hand. According to The Anti-Oppression Network, “allyship is not an identity, but an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group”. So, don’t make the mistake of making it about you instead.

  • Do the work – whether it’s attending protests, donating money to relevant organizations, or simply speaking up when it matters most, you’ve gotta be willing to DO THE WORK no matter how hard or convenient it can seem at times. 

  • Stay in your lane – whatever you do, don’t take advantage of your privilege by not giving credit where credit is due. What I mean by this is when you’re discussing social injustices that you didn’t experience firsthand, remember to remain objective and tell the story that needs to be told without making it your story. 

  • Embrace constructive criticism – if someone from a group you’re aligned with tries to give you feedback on what could be better, don’t take it as an attack. Instead, allow yourself to be educated and look at their constructive criticism as an opportunity to help you simply become a better ally. 

  • Want to keep the conversation about allyship going? Share this blog post with a friend, family member, or co-worker. And don’t forget to leave your comments or questions in the comments section below.

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