Mean People Suck
Empathy is the ability to understand and share
the feelings of another and is counterintuitive to
what many of us think we need to get ahead in our
professional and personal lives. We learn early on
to feel sadness when others get hurt, to treat others
the way we want to be treated (the golden rule), that
bullying is wrong. We meet firefighters, police officers,
and people in armed services and learn that service to
our communities is good.
Living in A World of Mean
We know that we should be kind but why do so many
of us, especially in the business world, not display
empathy for others?
In the past 25 years, the world has been radically
disrupted by digital, mobile, and social technology.
Our significant others dump us over text, our bosses
fire us over email, people shoot down ideas on Twitter,
kids get bullied on Instagram and Snapchat, and
negative comments flood platforms like YouTube.
Today, we can anonymously spew so much hate
without any fear of repercussion. That wasn’t the case
25 years ago because the technology didn’t exist. It’s
become the norm and we expect it because the digital
world has made it easier for people to be mean.
This disconnect and lack of empathy has permeated
into business. Few HR strategies address the
need to build a culture of empathy to combat
these disruptions. In our fast-paced, hectic office
environments, we are more worried about pleasing
executives than feeling for those around us.
Too many businesses and executives don’t recognize
that infusing empathy into our workplace makes for a
more profitable and stable business model. The State
of Workplace Empathy Study finds that 42 percent of
CEOs recognize the need to display more empathy but
don’t know where to start.
The lack of empathy that managers have for
employees and that people have for each other is a
significant problem that impacts business success
and life satisfaction, but it’s only half the problem.
It took me a while to learn what the other half of the
problem is, even though it should have been obvious.
The Real Problem Is the Org Chart
To help answer these questions, I reflected on
previous jobs and sought to figure out “why do we
suck?” and why is it so hard to be kind at work?
Most of us spend significant time at work trying to
please our leaders. Success means doing what you
are asked to do, whether or not it is good for the
company and/or delivers results.
The real problem is the org chart and the lines of
authority it attempts to define - who is above us and
who is below us. It misses the most important person:
The Empathy Formula
A culture of empathy concerns itself with customer
value, employee experience, and measurable results.
Employee experience strategies deliver higher Net
Promoter Scores which in turn lead to higher profits.
Work cultures and HR strategies must support caring
- about customers, managers, employers, and fellow
employees. Something has to break the cycle of
blindly doing what we’re told by our companies or
If managers gave employees more room to serve
customers’ needs, we could create more positive
experiences for customers. Those customers would
spend more money with our companies, our company
would grow and hire more happy employees, and the
virtuous cycle could begin again.
I know that the word “empathy” and the advice of “be
kinder” can sound trite in our cynical world. I realize
how naïve it sounds that if we follow the golden rule,
others will return the favor. As a consultant, keynote
speaker, and someone who has had 53 jobs, I have
found that this message is the foundation for my
success and of those I have studied.
Some might call empathy by other names like
customer experience or employee engagement.
Companies talk about the bigger problem without
addressing the underlying cultural problem they need
to fix in order to achieve business growth - employees
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