What can we do, when it’s difficult to empathize?
As a leader, you have the intention to help. This is usually fueled by compassion, as it is natural for you to feel responsible for the well-being of others in your organization. But if your help arises out of a desire to problem solve, your help can not only fall on deaf ears, but also make things worse by unintentionally eliciting people’s resistance and resentment. Some may even accuse you of lacking empathy because of this! This audio program sheds light on why all this happens and what you can do about it.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
- Leaders with an educational background heavily focused on problem-solving (i.e. engineering, medicine, business, etc.)
- Leaders with a desire to problem solve quickly.
- Leaders who wish to learn to better define problems.
- Leaders who have found that most problems in their lives revolve around other people. (i.e. co-founders, employees, investors, board members, vendors, etc)
- Why do people resist my well-intended problem-solving?
- Why does problem solving sometimes not work or make things worse?
- How am I supposed to solve problems when problem-solving doesn’t work or makes things worse?
- What can I do to make progress when empathizing is difficult?
- Why do people accuse my behavior of lacking empathy when it’s clearly born out of compassion?
- We often say defininig the problem is harder than solving it, what is “realizing empathy” and how does it help me better define the problem?
- Can I ever empathize too much?
- Audio (MP3, M4B)
- Video Slides (MP4)
- Worksheet (PDF)
Seung Chan Lim
1 hour 3 min
Empathizing points to B. an experience, where we’re feeling as if we’re connected or at one with an “other,” as opposed to A. disconnected or at odds with them.
Hyper-Empathizing points to B′. an experience, where we’re feeling as if there is no or cannot be any distance, distinction, or boundary between ourselves and an “other.”
Empathy is a word invented to explain our potential to move from A. to B. or B′.
We realize empathy when we empathize with someone or something we previously could not, by experiencing a moment of realization, where we go “Ah ha!” “Ah...” or “Ha ha ha!” concerning something we either did not or had incorrectly assumed to understand or appreciate fully.
Articles inspired by the Audio
Notable reviews of the Audio Program
at Affinity Solutions
After listening to the audio program, I reached out and asked my teammates about my behavior. One person told me I wasn’t setting expectations clearly. He was someone I considered a problem. I tried my best to look at him with a fresh pair of eyes. It was uncomfortable. Eventually, I could feel how frustrated he must be, working days and nights, with me as a boss giving him seemingly random advice. Just as it was said in the audio program, I could see that the problem was both of us. So I decided to research how to get clear.
After changing my behavior, the team’s morale eventually improved, because we’ve come to trust each other’s willingness to learn. This also ended up killing some of my impostor syndromes, because I could now have direct conversations with my teammates instead of sitting around doubting myself.
By realizing empathy, I have gone from thinking “Maybe he is a problem I can’t solve” to “He is a UX designer who is open and willing to learn from feedback.” Without the self-reflection and trying to understand the other, I never would have gotten there. I now feel more proud of my team than ever.
Video Vignettes Related to the Audio Program
going beyond human-centeredness
Before I started my research in art school, I had prided myself as an expert in empathy. This was a byproduct of belonging to a movement called human-centered design. Upon completing my research in 2012 and having gone through a profound transformation in perspective, I came to recognize how arrogant I had been.
irony is judging others for lacking empathy
Upon publishing my first book in 2013, I received feedback through an international tour. I then quickly realized that my work was not over. Because during the tour, I saw how people were weaponizing empathy against each other. It became clear to me, that I had to shift my focus from talking about the creative power of empathy to shedding light on what makes realizing empathy difficult: stress.