How My First Job Changed the Course of My Career

Posted by on Aug 4, 2016 | 0 comments

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Early on in my career I worked as a marketing director where I was priviledged to work with 27 independent businesses. That’s 27 independent business owners; 27 opinions; and 27 very unique personalities. My job was to increase participation of the businesses while promoting the overall entity of the entire group. Being fresh out of university, it was sink or swim. Needless to say, I had a lot of learning to do.

Thankfully, I learned to use an important skill to my favor. I didn’t realize it at the time but now as I am researching successful businesses and effective leadership qualities, I realize how I was able to make what was known as a difficult work environment, turn around and become easy and fun while successfully increasing the participation of each of the 27 businesses.

I listened and learned what I could from each business owner. While doing so, I learned that to get the business owners to want to participate in what I was wanting to promote, I needed to listen and understand what challenges and stresses they had going on for them. I didn’t know it but I was developing empathy. I was learning to put myself in their shoes and truly understand what they were up against. As I started to use empathy in my interactions with each business owner, it seemed like their protective walls were coming down and they were willing to work with me on my cause.

Overall business success depends on empathetic individuals who are able to adapt, build on the strengths around them, and relate to their environment. When businesses fail, it is often because leaders have stopped focusing on understanding their environment intimately and instead stay insulated in their own operations. Successful business leaders are receptive to disruption and innately aware of what is going on in their organizations both internally with their staff and externally with their customers and the market.

Empathy is the ability to step into the shoes of another person aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives and to use that understanding to guide our actions.

To develop an effective workforce, we must be willing to compromise and meet people where they are. This can be frustrating and uncomfortable, particularly when you feel like your position makes more sense or offers a better solution. A critical part of developing empathy, however, is learning to understand, respect and implement another individual’s point of view rather than forcing your own.

Empathy has been defined by others as:
Alvin Goldman: The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand the other person’s emotions and feelings.
Martin Hoffman: An effective response more appropriate to another’s situation than one’s own.

Empathy is most useful when the one empathizing has experienced a variety of feelings. For example, the boss who was once passed over for a promotion generally finds it easier to identify with another person who is passed over for a promotion. Not only is this comforting for the person who is going through the situation, but it’s also good for empathizer because it strengthens their ability to positively react to negative situations.

The door for empathy opens when we suspend our own perspective and think of the other person. Relationship-focused success expands capacity and potential. Empathy is a business skill that actually grows when practiced and shared. Empathy in the workplace creates and encourages sharing ideas free from the fear of ridicule, brings everyone to mutual understanding, not necessarily agreement and increases engagement because of the increase in belonging. If we are to keep our businesses relevant and our consumers happy, we must embrace empathy and let it be the force that drives us forward.

Read through the following statements and circle the most empathetic response.

1. I can’t believe Mr. Smith is making me work third shift. He knows I have children.

A. Mr. Smith is running a business and we have to do what we have to do.
B. I can understand why you would be upset. Have you tried asking him if he could switch you to an earlier shift?
C. I would be happy if I got third shift since there is a pay differential.

2. I have too much work on my plate.

A. I’m sorry you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have. Is there any way I can help?
B. That’s good since so many people are unemployed right now.
C. Complete the projects you can and discard the rest.

3. I am so upset. I thought I was going to get the job promotion.

A. The better candidate got the job.
B. Start spreading rumors about the work performance of the one who got it, and then maybe they will give it to you.
C. I know you are disappointed about not getting the job, but don’t give up. There will be a posting of a similar position next week, apply for it.

Answers: 1 B: 2 A: 3 C

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