Big Empathy

9198798785_df14769549_zEmpathy is not a leadership skill.   It’s not a brand attribute.   It’s not a software design principle.

It’s a natural human quality that enables us to imagine walking in another person’s shoes.

It comes up at work powerfully when we need to have a tough conversation.  When someone is failing, disrupting relationships, or in the wrong role.

Everyone wants to perform well, and to be part of the team.  (If you think otherwise, leading people might not be your strong suit.)

When someone is not doing well at work, they’re not burnishing their resume — they’re burning career time.  Time that they’ll never get back.

The person who’s underperforming usually knows that something’s not right.  Even if he don’t know what it is, or what to do about it.

When this goes on for long enough, other people pick up on it, too.   Sometimes they tiptoe around it.   Or they snipe, gossip and and grumble.   It becomes the elephant in the room.

This is both inefficient and ineffective.

For everyone.

If one of your team members is underperforming, don’t let him flounder because you don’t want him to feel upset when you talk about it.

That’s so much smaller than empathy.

Clear, direct feedback that will help him to improve is the best demonstration of your empathy.

If you don’t know how to deliver the feedback, script it out.   Practice it with your manager, a trusted peer, or your HR lead.

When it comes to managing people, and being a leader at work, you need to enact the largest empathy you can see.

Either help your team member to do a better job, or help him to to move along.  That shows empathy for your team member, their teammates, and the organization’s stakeholders.

And if your future plans involve continuing to lead people, “having a difficult conversation” will come up again and again.

There’s no time like now to build this critical muscle.

Managers, want some basic best practices on performance management and feedback?   I’ve got resources:

Photo: Elephant Close-up by the Wildlife Alliance, via Flickr, under Creative Commons license 2.0.

Guest Post: Walter Mullin on Business Communication


My friend Walter Mullin and I recently got into it about the communication snafus we all see at work.  (Can you say, “email”?)

Walter is a NYC-based consultant who works in Customer Engagement Marketing.  Communication is his bread and butter.   And it’s the glue for our workplace relationships.

Our conversation went from one thing to another, and the idea for a guest post was born!

Without further ado, Walter’s guest post…

5 Things Successful Professionals Know About Business Communication

Technology makes communicating faster.   It doesn’t always make it easier.  Over and over I hear from colleagues about the challenges of communicating effectively in business.

Some people, however, seem to have found the right balance.  Here are five useful tips they follow.

1.  After 4 emails, pick up the phone
If you can’t get the answers you need in four email exchanges, it’s time to pick up the phone!  Not only will you get the information you need more quickly, you may even learn something you didn’t know, or come up with a better way of tackling the problem.

Follow up with a confirming email if you want the written trail of what you discussed.

2.  A phone call gets a phone call back
When someone calls and leaves a message, pick up the phone and call them back.  Do not email, text or IM with “Saw that you called, what’s up?”  The person needed to talk with you live, so demonstrate professional courtesy: return the call.

If you’re pressed for time or unable to call back, then an email or text will suffice as long as you explain why you can’t pick up the phone.

3.  Never deliver bad news in an email
Got some unpleasant news to deliver?  Pick up the phone and do it live – or better yet, walk down the hall and deliver the news in person.

You can’t monitor someone else’s response through email.  You can control your own reaction when you’re talking live.   If the other person overreacts, you can talk them off the ledge.  If the gravity of what’s happening isn’t clear, you can explain it.

Either way, your professional reputation holds up better when you don’t hide behind email.

4.  If you want a “yes”, ask in person
Need someone to say yes?   Meet in person to make the request.  It’s much harder for someone to say no when you’re sitting across the table.  You’re more likely to get a yes — or at least a maybe — when you meet in person or, if distance requires it, talk over the phone.  The same request made through email, text or IM is much easier to turn down.

If it’s important, take the time to tee up the ask live.

5.  Remember the basics.

  • Keep it short.  Shorter emails get read, remembered and reflect back well on the sender.
  • No “text” abbreviations.  “U dnt lk gd in biz if u wrte lk ur txting btw cls in schl.“  This is business – communicate like a professional.
  • Spell check.  People do notice.
  • If you think you shouldn’t, don’t.  Listen to that little voice inside your head that tells you not to put something in email.  It’s probably right.

Walter, thank you so much for writing the first guest post to appear on my blog!   Writing a blog post takes time, effort and expertise.

I appreciate it!

Photo:  A Sailor communicates with the officer of the deck in flight deck control, by Official US Navy Page, via Flickr under Creative Commons license.