Imagine trying out a new a restaurant and being astounded by the ambience, the intuition of the servers and the exquisite taste of each dish. You turn to your partner and say what all of us say, “I wish (______ and ______) could be here. They would love this.”

It’s no wonder we go social in moments like this – photographing and posting our experience to our friends – the truth is, we all want someone to feel like us. We are wired for empathy. It can get socialized out of us but feeling like one another is in our nature.

When someone feels like us, it affirms our choices. It places us in the world. It makes us feel seen. A primal equation clicks inside us: “You feel like I do” = “I can trust you”.

This has nothing to do with agreement. It’s not about altering your position. Great managers can authentically feel what an employee feels (and acknowledge it) without agreeing with them or caving to their preferences. But if you can’t feel like your employees feel, they find it hard to trust you.

Don’t put yourself in others’ shoes

Ever seen someone throw the party that makes everyone cringe? Maybe they invited too many people. Ordered the wrong kind of food. Organized games that weirded people out.

Did the party-thrower wake up saying, “I think I’ll be totally inappropriate today”? Unlikely. But it can happen. It can happen to any of us.

The gift we purchased misses it by a country mile. (I may or may not have bought a new kitchen floor as a birthday present for my wife)

The words we offer for a coworker’s loss go sideways for them.

We recognize an employee and they feel patronized rather than valued.

Moments like these remove energy and add depletion to everyone’s day. You can save yourself (and others) some pain. Stop putting yourself in others’ shoes. What’s the issue with that? It’s still you in their shoes - you, with all your values, biases and judgments cavorting about in their shoes as if you were them. When you do that, your words betray you: “If I were in your shoes, here’s what I would do.” What comes out next is your autobiographical play in their situation.

Entry-level empathy. It spawns costly misunderstandings, weird meetings, and off-putting comments. Imagine it differently. Imagine more of us putting on another’s eyes to see the world the way they see it, to feel the world the way they feel it. This would release more energy and reduce some nasty depletion in our days.

I experienced the power of putting on someone else’s eyes many years ago when my daughter Katelyn was 13. I needed to buy her a Christmas present. I was clueless - walking through the mall with a bewildered expression trying to figure out what 13-year-old girls like.

I vividly remember thinking, “If only I could put on Katelyn’s eyes, I’d know immediately what to buy.” So in that moment, I put her eyes on – meaning I focused on everything I knew about Katelyn. I dialed up in my mind the music I had heard her listening to on the radio and the clothing I’d heard her comment on. I tried to feel like her, (she’s the youngest of four) wanting to be just as grown up, just as cool, just as included as her older sibs.

I was shocked by the result. With Katelyn’s eyes on, I was instantly drawn to the row of music with the Colbie Callait CD’s. I was prompted toward the store with the tops with the super-short midriffs. For once, my gifts were a hit. (my linoleum floor days were done)

Receiving perfect gifts, meaningful condolences or appropriate words of recognition tells us little about the intellect of the giver. It tells us lots about their ability to see the world through our eyes.

In your next conversation, make it your goal to put on the other person’s eyes, to see the situation the way they see it and feel the situation the way they feel it. Then acknowledge back to them what you see and feel. We need better parties.

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Related Resources

The Power of Conversation eBook

An Introduction to Terra Nova - An Experiential Learning Simulation

On-Demand Webinar: Introducing The Power of Conversation Training

Back to the Office Conversation Part Two - Leaders: Build the Frame

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