women working

The Business of Empathy

In last week’s post, I provided a teaser about the “feeling economy.” During a Right Management meeting, the term was mentioned as a side note but not really explained. But the term intrigued me, so I did some research.

Just as machines brought us into the Industrial Age, machines, specifically computers, are setting the foundation for the Feeling Economy. The Industrial Revolution emerged as machines replaced humans in repetitive jobs. Many people were affected by this shift as they lost employment to machines. On the positive, as machines took over the easy tasks, humans became the thinkers and the craftsmen. Computers continued to handle more and more leading us into the Technological Revolution, and now computers are swiftly taking over intellectual labor. Voice recognition allowed them to handled customer service calls, and now they can even write articles. I understand that this may scare many people, but what is emerging is so hopeful and beautiful to me. What we are moving into is the Feeling Economy.

women working
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

At least for now, the one thing computers can not do is have empathy. They can not relate on a personal level with humans. Maybe they will be able to do so in the future, we’ll see. But for now, what makes me excited and hopeful is that what is finally being recognized and valued is emotional intelligence. The California Management Review and the Smith Business School introduce us to the Feeling Economy. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes on not only mechanical and repetitive tasks, but moves into analytic and thinking tasks, we move closer to a Feeling Economy where people focus on interpersonal and empathetic tasks. The next boom is with workers who focus on the feeling tasks and emotional sensibilities.

On a personal level, I feel like this frees me from being a machine and provides me the space to be fully human. My strength, and my weakness, is my Type-A drive. This innate drive has allowed me to accomplish incredible things and keep things on track no matter what. It has also made me an unfeeling task master putting projects above individuals’ needs. For much of my work life, I was a machine. I saw the project at hand and only looked at the facts, what needed to be done and by when. I was automated. I was efficient. And I was very cold, distant, and heartless. I almost never took people’s feelings into account. What needed to be accomplished was of sole importance.

Thankfully, slowly over time, I have become more human and empathetic. What has helped me learn and accept the deep truth and need for empathy is that everything is transitory. A profession, a specific job, or a current project being worked on, all of these things change. Think about your term paper for school and how important it was at the time versus how important it is to you now. Most of what we find critical in the moment, is meaningless in the future. What I regret now is not how I performed my work, but how I treated those around me as I bulldozed my way through my work.

We are not here to accomplish things – although we may. Primarily we are here to connect. We are here to give and receive compassion. We are here to love and be loved. All the stress in the world is due to deadlines, ideologies, and other man-made concepts. Peace is found in connection, compassion, and love. I am learning to focus on the experience I or my cohorts are having. When I work with people in job transition, they can learn everything they need to about the job search from Right Management’s extensive articles, videos, and even AI resume review app. My principal role is not to teach or help them complete the process. What I can and should do is help them grieve the loss of their old position, sort through the anger of being let go, and deal with the fear of being between positions. I am in the feeling economy.

In releasing my computerized ways, I am learning to let go of expectations. Expectations are based on a right or wrong, they are based on timelines, they are based on my perceptions. Where I find more joy myself and more relief for my candidates, is focusing on their progress and growth. Yes, we are still working to land them a new position, but I am thanked more for helping people regain their confidence, have hope in the face of uncertainty, and for providing comfort and support. The result, the new position, is often just the framework for their personal growth.

Daniel Goleman introduced Emotional Intelligence back in 1995. Since then Brené Brown, Simon Sinek and others have been leading the charge of evolving business leadership into the feeling economy as empathy is posed to become more important. As with many changes and rebirths, some professions may be affected as we move into the feeling economy. But the shift to focusing and valuing people, feelings, and emotions gives me hope we are headed in right direction as a species. I am pretty excited. You?

smoke window

A Need for Empathy

Lately I have been gifted with some terrific teachers in my life.  The cat that used to sneak into our house, who I had found a home for, is back – and has commenced sneaking into our house.  She is teaching me boundaries with compassion (instead of compassion with no boundaries). The other prominent teacher for me right now is the young woman next door.

Multiple times a day, my neighbor sits on her patio and smokes. Sometimes tobacco, sometimes other plants. As our patios are connected, when she smokes, without fail, the fumes make their way from her patio into my house. I understand that she does not want to smoke in her house and have the smell inside where she lives, but neither do I. Thankfully I never said an unkind word to her, but I have to admit that I have frequently closed my window with extreme prejudice. My angry indignant mind loves to play its tape. “She is so rude. She is purposefully doing this to me or at least doesn’t care about how her actions affect me. It is unfair that she is keeping me from having the fresh air I am entitled to.” The tape stopped the day I spoke to her.

Photo by Taylor Young on Unsplash

We were having some work done on our home and like I good neighbor, I wanted to forewarn her of the noise and mess it may cause. I hardly got the words out of my mouth when she apologized for the smoke. She said that she tries to control how much comes our way, but the wind is not always helpful. She apologized for the weekend before. I had thought she was having a party with a few friends. What I learned was her 20-something friend died unexpectedly and she and her friends were chain-smoking to help them through the trauma.

I felt like a heel. Here I spent weeks making my neighbor into the bad guy. I focused only on myself and my suffering – which I made worse by the stories I told myself. Never in all that time did I tried to get to know her. Never did I have a conversation with her to see if we could problem-solve her right to smoke and my right to clean air. Never did I consider what she may be feeling or what was going on in her life.

Many of us have like me temporarily, or fairly constantly, lost the power of empathy. We look at our goals and our needs. We see people as taking from us or denying us. It takes a figurative slap in the face like I received, to awaken us from our self-centered coma. This experience has helped me remember:

We don’t know what someone else is going through:  Before we get angry because someone cuts us off in traffic or is curt with us on the phone, it helps to pause and consider that maybe the person is having a bad day or is rushing to take care of an emergency. Instead of focusing on our inconvenience, we should look beyond our self.

There is no absolute right or wrong: Just because we have expectations of how things should be, does not mean that is how they will go or even how they should go. Who are we to judge what is right and wrong?

We are all in this together: No matter how much we try to isolate or be independent, we need one another. Peace, understanding, compassion, and empathy can be found when we stop thinking “me” and start thinking “we.”

If you want more inspiration to embrace empathy, watch this terrific talk by Simon Sinek about the need for more empathy in the workplace.

Now more than ever, at work, in our relationships, and in our government, we need more empathy, compassion and understanding.

brain

Feeling Creatures Who Think

Another powerful concept Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor provided in her TEDx Talk is the concept that we are feeling creatures who think. We are not thinking people who feel, yet this is what our society believes and values – which is at the heart of many of our issues.

brainHere is the science and biology behind it. Our limbic system is constantly asking, “Am I safe?” If things feel familiar to our limbic system then we feel calm and safe. The system then sends the message “I am safe” to our nervous system including our higher cortex, our thinking brain. When things are not familiar, then our limbic system panics and jumps into self-preservation. As this happens, the hypocampus shuts down our thinking brain. An example of this is test anxiety where the situation is unfamiliar so the limbic system panics and shuts down our ability to think clearly.

What does this mean for you?

Although our biology works unconsciously, we can consciously choose to turn on our higher mind and think past the limbic’s fear. Using mindfulness to calm our minds and knowing that emotions wash over us in 90 seconds, we can stop, breathe, and then choose to think different – ensuring we don’t make poor, muddle choices in our haze of emotions.

Knowing how our brain and emotions work also helps us see our society in a different way. Our society, based on thinking and doing, discounts individuals, their feelings, and their worth. By shifting our focus to our feeling and intrinsic value, we can create a society based on human value. We can learn to:

  • Care about humanity as a whole, not our personal gain.
  • Focus on people instead of profits.
  • Increase equality, not reinforce stifling authority and us versus them.
  • Use our similarities to find understanding, versus attacking others for differences.
  • Become compassionate instead of competitive.
  • Forgive, not judge and attack.

The third lesson of this science is the stress relief it provides. When we stop striving, competing, doing, and longing after money, we can then focus more on what brings us joy – connection with others, creating a community, respecting the equal rights of all, finding understanding through acceptance, being compassionate, and using forgiveness to release our self-created prisons of hate. Moving our focus from our left “doing” brain to our left “feeling” brain, we become more peaceful, joyful, and stress free.

Are you ready to embrace being a feeling creature who thinks? How will it change how you approach your day?

Melissa Heisler, Stress Reduction Expert

Compassionate Objectivity

Jeff Weiner’s Post

Recently Jeff Weiner CEO at LinkedIn wrote a powerful essay about managing compassionately.   In his article, he outlines three parts of managing compassionately.  The first is to understand compassion is not empathy, but compassion is seeing and understanding another’s pain objectively allowing you to act or provide relief.  The second aspect given is that although some of us are born with a tendency for compassion, it is possible for all of us to learn and expand our own compassion quotient.  The final ingredient of managing compassionately according to Jeff is the need to have both compassion and wisdom. 

Understanding the other, or using compassion not empathy, is a common tool I use with many of my business and personal clients.  In many difficult or tense situations, there is a tendency to make it all about me.  It becomes about what this person is doing or not doing to me.  It is about how another’s actions are affecting me.  It is about my personal stories and judgments created about the other person’s motivations.  It becomes about my expectations of how others should act.  In these situations, I like to twist the old breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me,” to “It’s not me, it’s you.”

Whenever you are in a situation where you are beginning to take things personally or have strong thoughts about how another should be acting, stop.  Take a deep breath.  Release your beliefs about how people should act, release your personal values and preferences, and release your expectations of how the situation so go.  Be sure to also release any thought that this is being done to you.  Very few people actually intend to harm others.  If harm is felt, first of all it is because we accept the harm.  We choose to view it as an attack and to experience it that way.  No one can do anything to you; you have to let them harm you.  Second, the person who hurts others may be unaware of how they are affecting others (which is a great time to help them become aware in a compassionate caring manner) or they may be aware but their own fears or worries make them feel obligated to act like they are acting.  Once we can step out of our own emotions, expectations, and stories, we can then see the issue from a truly objective manner.  From this objectivity, solutions can be found.  Without compassionate objectivity, we become caught in the unending loop of attack-pain-fear-attack.

When we can step out of our point of view, our emotions, and our expectations to see a situation from another’s point of view it is powerful.   We now have a clearer idea of intent.  We have an idea about what the other person is looking for or fearing might happen.  We have the objective understanding of another’s pain and issues.  And we now have the ability to work through the true issue, not the story we are making up about the issue.  We become empowered by seeing and addressing the true issue and not our imagined scenario.  The next time there is an issue at home or work try using compassionate objectivity and notice the difference in your experience and the results.