We all know someone who is compassionate and carries empathy on their sleeve. They lean into conversations in a way that’s visceral. They light up when you share good news like, “we’re going to have a baby!” They express joy as if your happiness was indicative of their own. And, they’re truly concerned when we share something discouraging. These people feel WITH us and we connect with them on a far deeper level.
In my opinion, people who carry this level of empathy are pretty rare. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not one of them. In my early years, I was very competitive. I still have a natural bent toward performance. My natural tendency is to focus on what needs to get done and when.
And yet, if PEOPLE MATTER more, there are certainly times when we need to do more. What needs to happen next is to relate and connect with new levels of empathy and compassion.
One handhold that has helped has been utilizing what I call, “imaginative statistics.”
When we hear of a tragic story, we’re often moved to the person and softened by the impact of the situation. The trouble is we’ll never know all the stories that are impacting those around us. We’ll only be aware of a small fraction of the events and stories that impact the people’s lives around us. Recognizing this fact, we can use our imagination to help. Using our imagination can help many of us care for and connect with people in a far deeper and more meaningful way.
Here are two examples:
Picture a large team meeting with 15-100+ people. We can start by taking what we know of our closest friends and multiply that across the people in the room. What financial, relational, and other issues are happening with people we know? How would we change our approach as leaders if we knew about all the real struggles our team members are facing? Imagining the trauma, heartache, grief, and conflict is incredibly powerful. It changes the way we lead and love people.
Now, consider a situation where conflict has occurred. A meeting that didn’t go as expected or team members are not seeing eye-to-eye. Using the power of imagination is helpful in tearing down walls and bringing a team to unity and progress. The big question is, would you feel different about this person and situation if you knew more? What did their life look like at 15? Are they going through something really terrible right now?”
The truth is, it changes everything. I’ve seen it in myself and in others. The response to a real or imagined scenario is often, “oh man, let me process that and re-adjust and come back to the topic.”
I hope this imaginative way of thinking can lead to fostering more deeply connected and supportive teams.
Cheers to seeing and caring for people well in the midst of their stories!