Irony is when we judge others as lacking empathy

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.

Thanos cares.

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?

Those of us who value contribution habitually ask
“How can I help?”

Sometimes, this masks the tiny voice inside us saying
“I need help.”

Asking for help can be difficult.
Especially when we tend to play the role of “helper.”

When we empathize, we enter a space of inter-being,
a being other than “self” or “other.”

A space, where, instead of separating roles like
“helper” vs. “helpee,”
help flows
both
ways.

A space where we need not try so hard to help,
and yet, the other feels helped,
and so do we.

It’s not always easy to enter this space, though.
That is until we meet someone willing to realize their empathy
with us.

A chance we may only have
if we’re willing
to ask for help.​

Imagine two circles: self & other.

Not empathizing is them separated,
Empathizing is them intersecting,
Hyper-empathizing is them overlapping.

When we hyper-empathize,
we lose any boundary or distinctions between self vs other, and
our sense of identity becomes significantly affected.

This can be good or bad.

A mother throwing herself to save her child
is hyper-empathizing.
A business owner who feels like a failure
because her company was a failure,
and kills herself,
is hyper empathizing.

It’s important we learn the ability
to notice when hyper-empathizing works against us, so as
to choose another way of being.

Let us not unwillingly fall prey
to the whims of others.

“What has happened since our last session?” I asked.

He’d been feeling bad for his employees.
He felt like he was failing them.
With guilt on deck, underperforming employees fueled his resentment.
He was spending so much time and effort trying to be a better leader,
being understanding and supportive of them.
They, on the other hand, were not.

“I confessed my guilt to my employees.”
“What do you feel right now?”
“Relief.”
“What did you learn?”
“That all this time I was hyper-empathizing instead of empathizing.
That to empathize, it’s not enough to understand.
I also have to be honest with myself and others.”

Empathizing is not merely about others.
It’s about the relationship between ourselves and others.
Let us not forget ourselves.
Join me to learn how.

If someone’s life looks perfect, all it means is we don’t know them well enough.

Some of you replied to my last email asking how micro-managing can be good.
I’ll answer in a roundabout way.

My clients aspire to do good as leaders.
Good to employees, customers,…
It’s like wanting to be good parents.
Who can argue with that?

The irony is that trying to do good has not made an impact or made things worse.
This is one reason why realizing empathy is so critical.

We have an image of what “good” looks like.
But that’s what we think.
Doesn’t mean others will also appreciate the image as “good.”

I owe one of my most amazing growth experience to being micro-managed.

To be empathic is to be context-sensitive.
Our “good(s)” are unappreciated? We’ve misunderstood the context.

We often think micro-management entails meddling with every little detail from the moment we delegate work to another person.

Actually, there is another form of micro-management.

This is where we give someone the autonomy to do whatever they want, only to meddle with every little detail once they bring back the fruit of their autonomous labor.

The only difference here is when we micro-manage, not whether we micro-manage.

With accumulated life experience arises fear.
Between fear and care arises concern and anxiety.

Our concerns are well-intended.
Yet, when we behave out of anxiety,
it can also do harm.

How many parents ever intend to hurt their child?
Very few.
Yet, we were hurt by them.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.

I have yet to coach a CEO who does not care about their co-founders or employees.
Yet, these others were hurt by the CEO.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.
Same holds for CEOs hurt by co-founders or employees.

Not caring isn’t always the issue.
The challenge is also to care without anxiety.
It is to regulate our own tension.
A difficult, but necessary skill to learn as a leader.