We appreciate growth
when we grow on our timeline
in the direction we want to grow.
If we force others’ growth
to satisfy our own need for contribution,
no matter how good our intentions,
it’ll likely be unappreciated.
others may even rebel
and do exactly the opposite of what we wish.
What a waste of time and effort, no?
I was recently invited to run a workshop on Diversity & Inclusion.
I was surprised by the feedback.
The feedback emphasized how much ppl appreciated feeling safe enough to vulnerably express themselves.
I believe Diversity & Inclusion is about empathy.
If a workshop is run with empathy,
safety is a natural byproduct.
I took that for granted.
I’ve since learned that many Diversity & Inclusion workshops don’t make people feel safe.
In fact, it shames ppl for “lacking empathy,”
then tries to force them to “fix” their unconscious biases.
That shocked me.
The profundity of looking into the mirror
is not merely that we’re looking at our selves,
but that we’re looking at our selves from an other’s perspective.
It is by looking through the eyes of a different perspective
that we learn to become self-aware.
To lose our willingness to realize our empathy with such an other,
an other who sees things differently from us,
is to lose our ability to be self-aware.
There’s a meme on how lobsters grow
by shedding their rigid shell and producing a new one.
It points out that before it can grow,
a lobster feels stress against their shell.
Thus, the moral of the story is:
1) Treating stress as a problem to be solved is to prevent growth.
2) Stress can be a sign of growth.
What it skims through, though,
is how lobsters need a rock
to protect itself from predators
before it can shed its shell.
So if our client, employee, boss, or partner
seems to be unwilling to let go of their shell,
or to grow & innovate,
the question isn’t “Why are they being so rigid?!”
It’s “Do we have a rock in place?”
Let me know if you’re willing to be a rock.
One day, a 92 year old man asked his 62 year old son.
“Son. What bird is that?”
“A magpie.” answered the son.
Few minutes later, the old man asked again.
“What bird is that?”
“A magpie, dad. A magpie.” answered the son.
Few minutes later, the old man asked yet again.
“What bird is that?”
“I just told you! It’s a magpie!”
“I see.” nodded the old man.
Few minutes later, the old man asked
“What bird is that?”
“Oh my God! You deaf, dad?! I just told you!! It’s a f@$in’ magpie!”
Mother, who’s watched the scene unfold
remarked with a teary gaze,
“When you were a child,
you used to ask your father the same question
over and over again
Would you be willing to bear one day?”
Derivation source: youtube
Here’s a pattern I’ve observed repeatedly in my work.
If we think someone “lacks empathy”,
chances are good they think the same about us.
CEO thinks employees lack empathy.
Employee thinks CEO lacks empathy.
Doctor thinks patients lack empathy.
Patient thinks doctor lacks empathy.
Consultant thinks client lacks empathy.
Client thinks consultant lacks empathy.
Husband thinks wife lacks empathy.
Wife thinks husband lacks empathy.
It’s always the “other” that lacks empathy.
The challenge of leadership is to realize empathy first
instead of expecting others to do so.
And by “realize empathy,” I don’t mean be nice, kind, or altruistic.
I mean be willing & able to create unexpected meaning, value, form, and identity
Difficult, but possible through guided practice.
Designers have worked with resistance since the dawn of time.
The first caveman who drew on cave walls
were met with resistance from those walls
and leveraged it as the very means through which they created.
Whenever someone behaves in ways we interpret as “resistance,”
all it means is we’re struggling to create.
What human interaction designers do with resistance
is leverage it as the very means through which we create.
Until we learn this art,
we’ll feel nothing but frustration & resentment
in our attempt to bring about innovation in our interactions & organizations.
Guess what lies at the heart of this art?
Our willingness & ability to realize our empathy.
We often confuse direction with command.
A direction implies an invitation to look, to yearn.
A command implies a demand to do as told, to comply.
The two are significantly different.
Yet, we often confuse the two,
thereby refusing to direct,
sometimes assuming that it violates autonomy.
The opposite is often the case.
Autonomy without direction is often a recipe for overwhelm.
He does what he does,
for the good of others.
Just as caregivers & leaders unintentionally hurt others,
while merely trying to solve these others’ problems,
so does he.
In his pursuit to fulfill his need for balance,
he also hyper-empathizes with humanity
and assumes that they, too, desire to fulfill this need.
This is a fallacy.
To reckon with this fallacy
and to connect with the present need of humanity,
he has to see them in the eyes.
He has to be willing to realize his empathy directly,
not through imagination,
but through conversation,
which he never does.
Why would he?
After all, he cares.
He has good intentions.
Many of us think that’s enough.
Why would he think different?