Friday, July 22, 2022
This week, I sent a tweet that some may have found a bit cynical, which suggested that the attempt by large corporations to convince their associates that a CEO who earns $20 million per year understands the well-being concerns of their average employee is, as a matter of fact, contributing to the well-being concerns of their average employee. See, no reasonable person believes that someone with an 8-digit compensation package has any ability at all to relate to the health and welfare issues of individuals making 100 times less than them. So, for anyone in the organization to suggest that they do is not helpful; in fact, it’s upsetting.
As if on cue, two days after I sent the tweet, up pops a post in my LinkedIn feed from a CEO sharing the great news that he had finally taken the advice he’d been giving to his team about self-care and had decided to embark on a 5-star retreat to one of Europe’s most exclusive destinations. It was a rather long post, complete with pictures of the posh facility and some regret on the leader’s part that he doesn’t do enough for himself. I tried to put myself in the place of one of his average workers. I tried to decide how the post would contribute to my own well-being and rather quickly decided that it likely would not, imagining that with the rising cost of everything my own vacation had likely been postponed as personal budget worries mount … creating real live health concerns at a time when people in the office are being asked to do the work of more than one associate.
And to know that the boss’s idea of empathizing with it all is to jet over to Switzerland for a spa week was likely the last straw. Because the goal of empathy is not to show people how much more important you are than their problems. It’s to show them how important their problems are to you.
And that’s the point for the week.
Trying to show people that their problems shouldn’t matter to them by proving they are trivial to you will almost always serve to remind them only of why you should no longer matter to them. No one wants to be reminded of power they don’t possess, or money they don’t have, or luxuries they don’t own. People want to be made to feel big, not torn down or made to feel small. They want to work for people who are empathetic with their plight – not tone-deaf narcissists who seek to minimize the importance of their lived experience.
See, empathy is not a function of trying to convince people that things that they very well know do matter don’t. It’s a simple function of putting yourself in another’s place and understanding as best as you possibly can, how they feel … either because you’ve asked them or because you’ve been there before – purposely having walked a mile in their shoes.
At a minimum, it’s about honestly admitting that you have no earthly idea how they feel but promising that it matters enough to you to find out and then caring enough to do so. Because two things are true. One, all that most people care about is that you care. Second, you can’t fake empathy. Either you care or you don’t. If you care more for the person in the mirror than the person sitting in front of you, find another line of work. Leadership probably isn’t your bag. Because if putting yourself first matters more to you that anything else, you’re going to be spotted a mile away. And when you are, people will turn and run – joining the more than 4 million others per month that are heading for the exits, looking for people who truly and actually care.
So, don’t fake empathy.
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