A Friday Thought on Empathy

Always right?  Try the alternate view.

Do you ever feel like you are fighting an uphill battle?  You know the way forward but no one seems to be prepared to see things from your point of view?  We have all been there from time to time.  But what if this is a constant frustration?  What can we do about it?

As you may suspect, the answer to the problem lies with you.  Mainly because the problem may well be yours too!

Picture the IT director.  She has implemented systems to help the factory floor workers do their jobs more efficiently.  There is an electronic Kanban system to automatically replenish stock.  Stock is issued using a handheld scanner to ensure real-time software updates.  As soon as you use something a new one is on its way.  As soon as you complete a job, your boss knows you have done it and this is recorded.  You no longer need to walk to the warehouse to get a spare part or walk to the maintenance shop to request equipment is repaired.  You simply scan the barcode on the equipment, press a button and help is on its way.  The system design has considered every requirement and every task has been optimised for efficiency.

However, the team on the factory floor just don’t seem to want to use this equipment.  They leave the handheld scanners in their office unattended.  The battery goes dead and the IT Director’s team have to reload the image file onto the device.  This is consuming her resources and the business is not seeing the efficiencies the system is designed to deliver.  Why can’t these people just see it her way?  How does she get them to see things from her point of view?  The system design is perfect, the efficiencies that can be obtained are proven.

Maybe she doesn’t need to get people to see things her way.  Maybe she should walk down to the factory floor and see things from the perspective of the workforce.  If she did, she would find that the barcode labels are on the legs of the conveyors.  To scan the label you have to lie on the floor under the conveyor belt and reach up.  Whilst climbing down to the floor and getting into position, the scanner session times out and workers need to go through 4 log on screens to get back to where they were.  The scanners are quite large and cumbersome, they don’t fit in a pocket so need to be held or laid down somewhere.  This means people have to work one handed or leave their scanner unattended somewhere.  The outdoor labels fade with the sun and wash off with the rain, so they cannot be scanned. The system design is perfect, the efficiencies that can be obtained are proven.

All the IT director needs to do is look at the issue from the alternate view.  The view of the person who doesn’t comply with her wishes.  She would immediately learn the reasons behind their non-compliance.  She would also immediately learn that these things are very easy to fix.  By taking the alternate view she will get the team to see things from her perspective.

This is a habit we should all form.  Even when the alternate view point is wrong, and viewing things from this perspective simply serves to confirm that this view is wrong; at least you have seen this view.  Now you have insight into how this wrong viewpoint was formed.  Empathy doesn’t mean agreeing someone else is right and you are wrong.  However, it does allow you to appreciate why things are the way they are.  Until you do this, you will never be able to achieve a situation where things are the way you know they should be!







Is he laughing, is he crying?  You can form your own view.  Unless you put yourself where he is, you will never know.



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