A great word. Like passion, like integrity, like synergy – a word in danger of becoming an easily uttered cliché.
What does empathy-in-action actually look like? Do I “feel” more for my colleagues? Do I behave more kindly toward them?
In an interview about her current film “Carol,” the actress Cate Blanchett defines acting as an act of empathetic connection with a character. When you act, you temporarily walk in another character’s shoes. And Blanchett draws the sort of distinction actors love to make: You don’t have to be a killer to convincingly play a killer. No, acting is a momentary, highly-skilled Shoe Swap.
Watching the tv show “Undercover Boss” is one of my guilty pleasures. In “Undercover Boss,” a CEO goes undercover for a week and, under the guise of being a trainee, performs some of the tasks that frontline employees in the business perform on a daily basis. A classic Shoe Swap. Invariably, the CEO is startled by the disconnect between the firm’s corporate strategy and the hardships faced in daily execution. By the end of the Shoe Swap experiment, most CEOs are reduced to tears.
A Shoe Swap is powerful.
When I received my mediation training at the Brooklyn courts, shoe-swapping was one of the techniques we learned to help shift an adversarial relationship. Yes, powerful.
Next time you wish to behave more empathetically toward a colleague, don’t just think nice thoughts. Do a mental Shoe Swap. Here’s how it works.
You sit in a meeting. You have a strong reaction to an idea proposed by a colleague. You feel the heat rise in your chest. Your mind is itching to reject the asinine idea put forth. You’re planning a brilliant retort. Uhuh, your mind is ready to do battle.
Go to your internal cue word: Shoe Swap.
For the next 45 seconds, intentionally abandon your thoughts, your feelings, your reaction. For these 45 seconds, FULLY try to understand the reasoning, the rationale behind this colleague’s point of view. Contemplate the challenges your colleague may be facing. FULLY put yourself in your colleague’s shoes.
45 seconds. We can do that, right?
A Shoe Swap does not mean we agree with another person. It does not suggest we abandon our beliefs. You and I may not be reduced to tears like the CEOs in “Undercover Boss.” But if we engage in our 45-second Shoe Swap with sincere intent, there’s a superb chance we end up with a more complex understanding of the situation at hand.
Shoe Swap accomplished. Empathy in action.
You and I are responsible for our mental cuing. A Shoe Swap does not magically happen by itself. Incorporate the phrase “Shoe Swap” into your mental programming. Triggered in a conversation? Think Shoe Swap. Execute in 45 seconds.
Powerful shifts will occur in your conversations. 45 seconds is all it takes.