I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done. – Andrea Arnold
Back in my Information Technology life, I worked for this company for what was probably two or three weeks. My job was to set up an intraweb which is a way for computers inside a setting to connect to each other and share information through web browsers such as Firefox and Internet Explorer (bet you didn’t know that you would get information on things not psychology related here, huh? I’ll stop now.) Jobs were scarce back then due to the economy and this sounded like my best option. The owner of the company and hence, my boss, was a volatile man that barked instructions left and right and expected things to get done his way and right away. I was still a student earning my bachelors degree, and I still had some things to learn about web programming. While I knew many other things about computers, this was a first for me an I was on a learning curve. I did express my limited knowledge during my interview and my boss said it was fine.
Because of this learning curve, my web sites were far from perfect. Still, I was making improvements daily as I was learning. The owner of the company was checking my work daily and telling me that my work was no good. There was no constructive feedback and a lot of putdowns. Within this time, I started to dread having to go to work more and more. The owner started giving me more and more assignments and expecting me to work on this one. I felt pressured left and right. Not only that, but the workstation that I was working on was an older model and it was situated by a window with broken blinds and the sun was hitting me from behind four hours a day. “Suit and tie,” he said, “you can’t take off your coat, we have an image to uphold!”
I tried to express that I felt overwhelmed and perhaps he could help out by understanding where I came from and perhaps taking it easier on me and his response was, “I treat everybody here the same way, and nobody complains. If you don’t like it, you know where the door is!” It was true that nobody complained, to his face, at least. During lunch hour, his employees were talking left and right about how they hated working for this man, but they were afraid that they could not find another job and they just had to fess up and go to work. One day, I got to work and tried to login to the machine and couldn’t. The boss came by and told me in front of everyone else that he did not like my work and he had formatted the machine. Just like that. He said that I would have to start from scratch, turned around and left. I felt disrespected, worthless, stepped on and humiliated. I was so upset that I asked for the rest of the afternoon off. The next day, I went to a computer lab at the university and asked for a job. The following day, I went to Mr. Scrooge and quit.
If Mr. Scrooge had had empathy, other interpersonal skill notwithstanding, he would have earned the respect of his employees and not their fear. His employees would have been happy at work and would have more than likely been more productive. Empathy is the ability to experience the thoughts, emotions and feelings of others, or in layman’s terms, to put oneself in someone else’s shoes. How are the other people feeling? Would I feel the same way in the same situation? For some people, empathy comes simpler than to others. Perhaps, for some, it would be simpler to think of the Golden Rule, ”One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” Would I want to be respected all the time by this person in front of others, and when alone? If I was learning something new, would I want the person to give me some slack and give me some constructive criticism without ridiculing me? Would I like my opinion to be valued?
Once I start thinking of how I would feel, I can start realizing how others are feeling. Then I can understand their situation if I am lending an ear, and I can also start treating others more nicely as well. Some say that empathy can’t be taught, but I disagree. Empathy just takes a lot of practice. Try it out today with your partner, kids, coworkers, teachers, students, etc. and practice it as often as possible until if becomes an unconscious reaction. Better relationships will be built, you’ll see.