Excerpts from Practical Empathy


Excerpts that resonated for me from “Practical Empathy.” by Indi Young, Rosenfeld Media, LLC, 2015.

Empathy is, ironically, often used for persuasion. In marketing, in politics, in the media—the purpose of understanding someone else is often to induce a change in his beliefs or behavior. This is not the only use of empathy. Empathy is also used to encourage growth or maturity in young people, teaching them to respect perspectives that are different than their own. Empathy is used to affect subject, tone, and vocabulary to be able to initiate communication with a person.

Questioning someone to get more information about what is driving the request is not a form of disrespect, it is collaboration.

When lack of empathy is widespread, working within a broken culture feels awful. You try to do the right thing, but instead you witness everything spiral out of control.

It’s better to embrace the humanity of the people you work with than to expect the efficiency and productivity you might have if people weren’t people.

Just like reporters are supposed to cite three sources for a fact, and like homeowners are supposed to get three estimates for repair work, run your brain through three different perspectives (see Figure 6.6). You can do this in a matter of a few minutes. The three perspectives can be from similar behavioral groups or from dissimilar ones. Running through three other perspectives helps you make adjustments to your ideas so that they are even stronger.

In Western culture, using demographics as shorthand for people’s thinking is widespread. You get hit with it in media, entertainment, professional presentations, and casual conversation. People make demographic statements without knowing it, or they make demographic statements as hyperbole.

Now is the time to stand upon your newly earned understanding of others. This includes your understanding of your peers’ and stakeholders’ purposes. Rather than latch on to an idea you think will support people better, latch on to your knowledge about those people and about the people you work with. Let other people lead the way, iterating through some ideas. To have any strength and hope of thriving, ideas need to be created collaboratively. Many heads are better than one, and an idea is always stronger when it gets bounced around a bit. See if the people you work with come up with the idea that was lurking at the back of your brain—make it a game—and watch if the ideas that get discussed don’t surpass that lurker anyway. The importance of letting go of ownership of ideas and ideation is that you will be able to assess the value of ideas more clearly. This is part of the empathetic mindset.

There is a fine line you’ll need to watch for when you’re developing trust from a coworker or a direct-report. If you lead that person to believe that you agree with her, but you really don’t, she could feel betrayed later when she finds out. In a situation like this, you’ll want to work on expressing your curiosity and understanding about this other person’s point of view, instead of reflecting back a perspective that you don’t truly hold. If your curiosity is genuine, if you prove that you care, she will be able to tell, and that alone will be your foundation for developing trust.

Oddly, a bunch of these quotes rang of "Holy f--- I wish I had this when I was at Twitter," because everything was so dysfunctional there. Didn't think about or notice any lack of empathy or understanding once when at Shopify. I believe this says something about the two cultures.