A great word. Like passion, like integrity, like synergy – a word in danger of becoming an easily uttered cliché.
What does empathy-in-action actually look like? Do I “feel” more for my colleagues? Do I behave more kindly toward them? Is it something I say that unequivocally articulates my empathy?
I remember an interview the great Cate Blanchett gave for her Oscar-nominated performance in the film “Carol.” In the interview, Blanchett defines acting as an act of empathetic connection with a character. When you act, you temporarily walk in another character’s shoes. And Blanchett draws the sort of distinction actors love to make: You don’t have to be a killer to convincingly play a killer. No, acting is a momentary, highly-skilled Shoe Swap.
Watching the tv show “Undercover Boss” is one of my guilty pleasures. In “Undercover Boss,” a CEO goes undercover for a week and, under the guise of being a trainee, performs some of the tasks that frontline employees in the business perform on a daily basis. A classic Shoe Swap. Invariably, the CEO is startled by the disconnect between the firm’s corporate strategy and the hardships faced by its workers in daily execution. As in a way cheesy and “manipulated” as the show is – the impact of the Shoe Swap experience is clearly transformational for most CEOs. By the end of the experiment, they are invariably reduced to tears.
A Shoe Swap is powerful.
When I received my Mediation training at the Brooklyn Courts, back in the 1990s, shoe-swapping was one of the techniques we learned to help shift an adversarial relationship. Yes, powerful.
Next time you wish to behave more empathetically toward a colleague, don’t just think nice thoughts. Do a mental Shoe Swap. Here’s how it works.
You sit in a meeting. You have a strong reaction to an idea proposed by a colleague. You feel the heat rise in your chest. Your mind is itching to reject the asinine suggestion put forth. You’re planning a brilliant retort. Uhuh, your mind is ready to do battle.
Go to your internal cue word: Shoe Swap.
- For the next 45 seconds, intentionally abandon your thoughts, your feelings, your reaction.
- For these 45 seconds, FULLY try to understand the reasoning, the rationale behind this colleague’s point of view.
- Contemplate the challenges your colleague may be facing.
- FULLY put yourself in your colleague’s shoes.
45 seconds. We can do that, right?
A Shoe Swap does not mean we agree with another person. It does not suggest we abandon our beliefs. You and I may not be reduced to tears like the CEOs in “Undercover Boss.” But if we engage in our 45-second Shoe Swap with sincere intent, there’s a superb chance we’ll end up with a more complex understanding of the situation at hand.
Shoe Swap accomplished. Empathy in action.
You and I are responsible for our mental cuing. A Shoe Swap does not magically happen by itself.
Incorporate the phrase “Shoe Swap” into your mental programming. Triggered in a conversation? Think Shoe Swap. Execute in 45 seconds. Powerful shifts will occur in your conversation. 45 seconds is all it takes.