DateAugust 13, 2015

Empathy is Feeling with People

The Power of Empathy

The audio of this RSA short is of Dr Brené Brown who spoke at the RSA on The Power of Vulnerability. She talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy and argues that to be truly empathetic you have to be vulnerable by connecting with someone’s pain in yourself.

This short video is a fantastic primer for empathy. What is empathy? How does it differ from sympathy? Are adorable animals the best at explaining any topic?

Here are the main things I took from this short talk.

  • Empathy is a choice.
    It’s a choice to connect with another person by reaching within yourself to get access to that part of yourself that hurts in the same way the other person does. It’s a vulnerable choice to make because you’re opening up.
  • Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy fuels connection.
  • Response doesn’t make something better. Connection makes something better.

Empathy is important in the world of customer service too. Showing empathy is a vital customer service tool. It builds the connection between you and the other person. It brings you together. Connecting with people is a great first step in starting to help them. You’re an ally, not an enemy. You’re showing them empathy, not sympathy. Sympathy starts with at least…

I know you lost all your work, but at least you still have a job. That’s sympathy.
Empathy is not always offering a response. Sometimes the best response is to say, I understand.

Showing a little empathy can go a long way to bettering your relationships with your customers, friends and family. At the end of the day, we don’t want to be alone. We want to make connections with each other. Build those connections with empathy.

Silos

There are bottlenecks in your communication and it’s slowing your team down. Working in a large organization, there are two ways to share information collaboratively.

First, there is an open flow of information. For instance, a wiki. When I worked for the National Cancer Institute, we had a giant wiki all the technical staff used, updated and relied upon for information. It was a fantastic way to share information across teams and locations. Everyone was able to contribute to the knowledge of the group. Everyone was accountable for their changes.

Second, there is a collection of silos. This is Sharepoint. These are network drives. The silos prohibit the free-flow of information and limit it to pre-approved groups of people. Gatekeepers for those groups hold the reigns of their information tightly and in order for new people to access the information, they must be granted access.

Silos are slow.

When information is locked away inside a silo, it can take hours, or days for the information to be available to those who need it. When information is open, it can be accessed immediately and work can continue.

How many times has this happened to you? You’re at work and you need to do something for the first time. For me, that’s fairly often. When I had access to a well-manicured wiki, it was a matter of searching and finding the information I needed.

Now, I asked for where the information lived. It could be on the Intranet. It could be on Sharepoint. It could be locked away on a network drive somewhere.

I got a quick answer over email.

There are some user guides located at https://sharepointURL

Great. I clicked the link and read the guide. Now I am ready to complete the work!

Wrong.

Sharepoint Denied Access

I’m denied access because I am not on the pre-approved list of people who can access this how-to guide.

I replied to the email that I did not have access. I then clicked the Request access link and found this helpful page.

Sharepoint Request Access form

An anonymous form where I can Send Request. Where does it go? Who manages this access? Can I call them? Email them? No.

I completed the form with the information I needed to get access to and why. And I wait.

That was yesterday. Today, there is no answer. Nor is there any access.

I am not expecting it any time soon. There is no accountability with this system. There is no way to see where my request is or if it went anywhere.

Lip Service

Many organizations say things like we want to foster more communication and collaboration. And then they roll out tools which do precisely the opposite.

I’ve seen where a culture has grown around the open sharing of ideas and information and it’s a magical thing. But too many times information is stuck in silos.

Silos will always stifle communication and collaboration and put up unneeded road blocks. In order to foster communication and collaboration information must flow between teams seamlessly. If a person on another team needs a document, it shouldn’t involve a level of approval to make that document available.

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