As I write this I’m watching my 7-year-old daughter dance furiously with her friend. It’s Friday night and they’re an image of pure joy. There’s laughter, big belly laughter. There’s breathlessness, shrieking, craziness, complete happiness.
It is moments like these that fuel my unending gratitude. I look for them in all areas of my life – I take care to notice because the things we focus on form the story of our lives (she’s snorting now she’s laughing so hard). I can’t even describe the depth of my gratitude in these moments.
I’ve been on a journey practising and researching empathy for years now, and something I’ve noticed as I’ve become more intentional in my effort to stand in another’s shoes, is the depth of connection and emotion you’re able to experience. I can literally feel her complete and uninhibited joy right now. It transferred to me the minute I looked up and noticed. I see her – the real her – exactly as she is. My context takes a back seat and I’m able to see things through her eyes, her mind, her heart. Similarly, I can hear a story of someone I don’t know and feel grief, hopelessness, worry. The feeling isn’t mine but I experience it.
Once you’ve embraced another’s being and context, it becomes harder to judge, criticise or condemn. If I looked only from my context I could have determined that my daughter was being noisy, inconsiderate, dramatic – because right now I’m trying to recoup some peace from a long week with a quiet red wine and a candle. But from her context, I see relief after a big week at school, I see anticipation that’s built all day from waiting to spend time with her friend, I see pride in the way she’s planned and organised her evening – excitement for the games they will play, the fun they’ll have. I know she’s recouping her peace too, in the way she knows best.
One thing I’ve noticed over years in business is that empathy is seriously lacking from most workplaces. Other people’s behaviour is a reflection of their context, it has nothing to do with you. Go stand in their shoes and you will see. You don’t have to agree in order to empathise. Maybe if we could stop and see what our colleagues see we’d be a little less inclined to judge and start building better cultures. Maybe if we could stand in our clients shoes we’d create better products for people and find real solutions that served them instead of our egos. Maybe if we attempted to better understand ourselves we’d be more inclined to see the good in others and begin to contribute to growth instead of apathy or regression.
What energy do you emit to your family, your work, your life? I’ve learned empathy defines your energy, and energy is a powerful thing. What you focus on you get more of, and the energy you hold onto forms the overall tone of your life (or business). Choose wisely.