Wednesday, May 21, 2014

If you practice, empathy may become automatic - A feedback at work story

I was recently reminded that building empathy takes practice. It also takes effort, it takes repetition, and it is hard sometimes. But the payoffs are fantastic.

I have a job, and I know that part of working any job is being able to play nicely with the other kids in the schoolyard. If I don't get along I could get reprimanded, or even fired. I also have the added task of working closely with our customers. If I'm not 'nice', well, then they could decide they don't want our business anymore. Peter Shankman talks about this concept all the time on his blog.


The other day my boss passed me some feedback from a client* who was mad. He said, "Joe said you were pushy, and inflexible, and not customer focused." According to Joe, when working with me he felt "It's her way or the highway."

That's when empathy hit me right between the eyes.

I immediately felt what this guy was feeling. No matter what caused him to say those things, his perception immediately became my reality. I was standing next to him at the water cooler, listening to him moan about this horrible consultant he had to work with. I was a fly on the wall in his boss's office, while he went on and on about how difficult it was to talk with me. I was him, and at the same time I was me, remembering that time I had a really bad experience with a doctor's office. Things didn't happen the way I wanted them to, and I was unhappy about it.

What if I said these things? Why would I say them? How would I be feeling? I would be feeling hurt. I would be feeling angry at how I had been treated - and feeling like 'she wasn't being fair' and 'she wasn't helping me'.  Mostly, that 'she wasn't listening to me'.

All these thoughts helped me to put his comments in perspective. I remembered the day that I talked to him. I could see how my comments could be seen as pushy. I told my boss, "I know better, and I shouldn't have treated a client that way. I'll definitely try to do better next time. "


What was so great about this automatic empathy was that I didn't get defensive and I didn't argue. Practicing empathy allowed me to get past my own anger, and see the information for what it was. I was still MAD at what this guy said. I think that just makes sense, he was insulting me. I was just able to take that out of the equation when talking to my boss.

Anyone care to share a 'getting' or 'giving' feedback story (good or bad)? Please use the comments, or send me a message on our facebook page.


*Names and details have been changed. 


SL said...

I am a very kind patient person. If I can't cope with someone, sooner or later my bosses learn that the person should be dropped as a customer.

Janet said...

Thanks SL!

Has there ever been a situation where you received feedback (good or bad) that you had trouble reacting to?