6 responses to “WTF #7: Empathy”

  1. Sebastian Abbott

    I spent a few weeks in our China offices a couple of years back and was surprised to see how well they got on. I was expecting much more of a “command and control” type regime, strongly hierarchical. Instead, I got the impression that they worked well together and respected each other for what they were (respect being the necessary sister of empathy).

    I suppose it helped that work was their whole life (they lived in apartment blocks together, went on vacations together), but nevertheless it was a pleasant surprise.

    It was also a direct contrast to Japan and especially Korea, where the boss is God.

    The biggest challenge that I see for a manager is combining empathy, respect and leadership, the latter being the ability to motivate and direct a team in directions they don’t necessarily initially want to go.

    Looking forward to your future posts on your experiences!

  2. Sophi

    Fluxor- good luck with your next move!

    Along with empathy, I think straightforwardness is important. There are a lot of managers who listen to what you have to say, promise change or results, then nothing happens.

    Managers should not make up platitudes for reassurance, we are smart enough to know when they are “white lying”.

    As an engineer and human being, ethical behavior is important to me.
    Once a manager has made something up, or promised something not delivered, my trust for that manager is gone.

  3. Scott Wohler

    For 8 years I worked for a small company whose owner (and my boss) had no emotional intelligence whatsoever. He was terrible at reading people, didn’t understand interactions and reactions very well, and didn’t really comprehend sarcasm without being told. As a result, he had little to no empathy towards his employees. Most of his interactions were canned, which might have been okay if he hadn’t been pulling from the wrong “book.” Some would confront him, call him out, and some of us would just deal with it – which is a bad approach. This is fine for a while, but it wears a person down in the long term. Since he didn’t see the value of giving feedback (positive or negative), we had to learn to be self-sufficient and sustaining. We would be forced to make decisions on our own. We felt that the decisions we would make were best for the business, only to be overridden by him for reasons that had no rationale, and were often detrimental to the company.

    This experience, if nothing else, showed me the true value of empathy as a leader. You have to be willing to have open discussions, even if they are difficult. Your manager should have communicated with everyone on the team, thus giving them value as employees and letting their voices be heard. This is the difference between leaving on good terms, with respect and understanding, and forever despising the company you once worked for. Sticking your head in the sand is never a productive option, but it is one that is all too familiar to me.

    Empathy is also key in making decisions within teams. Engineers have a tendency to take time for processing something new before contributing, even though they might still have initial reactions that can often be subtle. If you as a leader can’t decipher these moments, you might be missing valuable viewpoints. Over the years, companies and researchers have tried many different techniques to elucidate unique viewpoints from teams during brainstorming sessions (anonymizing sessions, t-charts, imposing rules, etc.) when probably all that is required is a leader with empathy.

    Sorry to hear about your experience, just know that it unfortunately sounds all too familiar.