“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”
Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.
I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community. During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.
Empathy in motion…
I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.
I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?
That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?
The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.
People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.
We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:
1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.
2) Stay curious. Some of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.
3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.
For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:
As I peruse my social media accounts and watch the range of issues and concerns plaguing the minds of the masses, one thing stands out. It is this new reality of people being bothered by everything and nothing all. Let me explain. People love kitten photos and will wage an all-out war on someone who harms an animal – yet will remain silent if later faced with an update on another black child being killed in Chicago. They rant about a lack of manners and etiquette at the gas pump or in the supermarket, but fail to see how their political or racial rants may be just as lacking in the aforementioned.
While it’s not my job to tell people what they should or should not concern themselves with, it appears to me that we give much more credence to the mundane annoyances we all experience and actively choose to be “unbothered” (as the younger generations say) with facts, integrity, human life and any other virtuous elements that define and illustrate our humanity or lack thereof.
I have heard of friends who were unfriended from posting too many times about the deaths of black kids or the #blacklivesmatter movement, yet they were perfectly acceptable to remain in everyone’s timelines when they posted exploitative twerking videos of people behaving poorly or providing outlandish comic relief.
Double standard much?
I get it! We can’t be all world news, politics, and serious causes 100% of the time. I completely get the need for mindless activities. On this fact alone we may agree. However, there is some serious stuff going on in the world at the moment. I wonder if we would be better off if we all took a few moments from our day to acknowledge the relevance of the human interests of our time. What if we spent fewer moments concerned about the minuscule annoyances we experience day-to-day like no Wi-Fi or an inconvenient flight? Would we then have the time, empathy and energy to digest the societal concerns that require our attention?
By the way, this doesn’t just extend to the digital realm either. I encounter far too many people who are complaining about a plethora of situations and injustices. Again, we all complain. The bigger question is: what is the value of complaining and how does it impact or change what is bothering us? It doesn’t change anything. In my humble opinion, we need to be so bothered by the atrocities of the moment that we actually do something about it. It’s called activism and right now we have a lot of people passionate about being right and uneducated in the facts that inform our reality. The result of this is: an alternate realm of reality where everything that truly matters becomes a nuisance and the things that have little societal or moral value wins the hearts and minds of the masses.
Indecision is a decision. Inaction is an action. Sometimes silence feels like the safest bet when you are trying to decide whether you should risk your reputation to assume an unpopular position. The problem is you are gambling away your values and morals too. It is quite the dilemma, but worth evaluating.
I recently chatted about Feminism in 2016 on my Periscope show “Ask Czarina Live™”. I shared the perils of being a “me” generation and the limits of “social media activism”.
Watch the episode below and share your thoughts about my concept of “being bothered by everything and nothing at all”. I want to hear from you.
Every year, I like to find a different way of celebrating my favorite day: my birthday. Since I am turning 32 next month (I know…awww…), I’ve decided to share 32 revelations I have had during the course of my life about everything from life in general to business. Think of it as daily inspiration for you and therapy for me. It is a challenge for me, because I don’t think I have ever published a post everyday in the entire existence of The Aristocracy of HR. Plus, I recognize that while I am fairly generous in sharing on social media and here, I have only just scraped the surface on sharing who I am when I’m not pontificating how HR and Business can do better. Let’s use the month of March to get to know one another better. I hope at the end of the month, you walk away with something you can use in your own life or business.
Day 3 of 31- The Distraction of Ignorance
I find most people are distracted. Distracted by their bills, worries, jobs, health problems etc. I get those distractions. It’s hard to focus on other things when you have a heavy deck of cards on the table and they have to be dealt with. What I don’t get is distraction to the point of ignorance. It’s an intentional distraction from anything and everything that truly matters. This permanent vacation many people are taking from being cognizant of the injustices experienced by others, the manipulation of circumstances and situations to advance political agendas, wars, blatant discrimination is astounding.
I wrote some articles about race relations between the end of last year and the earlier part of this year, because my heart was heavy. While my focus is generally business, HR and all things talent management, I could not sit on the sidelines and not say something about the ignorance that is so prevalent in this country. I felt I had a duty to speak up and I felt comfortable with what I wrote, because I was aware. I was aware of what was going on, the situations, the people involved. the timeline for how an entire country ended up at odds over race. So, I came here and to my LinkedIn blog and wrote about what I was seeing and offered some suggestions for how we begin to solve these race relations and civil liberty issues.
In return, I had a slew of people providing half-ass summaries of the events that took place. There were some that even had the nerve to make generalizations about blacks on my thread and had no data to back it. I’ll share some of what was said in a future post, but the point is we have become a society of distracted, opinionated simpletons that jump on and off of bandwagons surrounding critical issues -without having the decency to be knowledgeable about the issues at hand. Just today, I read a thread of a friend on Facebook where a gentleman made the comment that “all adults that are making minimum wage are worthless”. He backed this assertion by saying: “if you’re struggling with a minimum wage job, you went wrong somewhere.” I don’t have to tell you that all of those making minimum wage and otherwise pounced on him pretty well. In his mind, there is no possible way that a recession, elimination and outsourcing of jobs, or socio-economic marginalization could be variables contributing to this recent epidemic. Surely, all people surviving this way are just inept and worthless.
You can be ignorant and humble-in that you recognize and accept what you don’t know. However, when you are arrogantly making generalizations and assertions about people, cultures, situations, experiences- you are not only unrealistic but dangerous. The strength of any society is in its people being aware and participating citizens. I see a lot of people tired of the ignorance, but I see many more participating in the privilege of being distracted and ignorant.
You may wonder if I am concerned with the impression prospective clients, colleagues, or people in general have of me when I address these issues. The truth is every time I tackle a controversial issue, I am not looking for concurrence but constructive dialogue. Anyone shooting from the hip, without facts, data or a nary a personal experience related to the issue is certainly not anyone I would do business or break bread with.
Czarina’s Lesson: Ignorance is bliss until you find knowledge. Investigate before you pontificate.