An intensely frustrating personal experience recently has focused my mind on its implications for how we connect and relate to others.

I locked myself out of my house.

Never done that before; but as I went into the front garden to talk with the engineer from my broadband provider, the front door clicked firmly shut.

I had no coat, phone, cards, cash, keys (obviously) or any way to get back into the house.

Calls, meetings and work awaited, it was freezing cold and my husband was in the City of London; an hour away.

We’d changed our front door locks a mere 24 hours early, and with high security keys, the normal spare key that is hidden outside was not yet in place.

I don’t know my husband’s mobile number off by heart (because it’s in my phone under his name).  I borrowed the engineer’s phone to dial his work number… a tedious rerouting process which proved absurdly unhelpful then ensued.

A tale of woe for sure.

Here’s my point.  The first 5 strangers I called (using the lovely engineer’s phone), in an attempt to get them to help me in some way, laughed.  They laughed.  What’s so funny?  Why laugh when someone is genuinely in a difficult and frustrating situation?  I simply don’t get it.

Secondly, listening skills were incredibly poor.  Each individual offered (after getting past the hilarity of the situation) to take my number and call me back.  Did I mention that I’d locked myself out and my phone wasn’t with me?

Thirdly, it got me thinking… was that just an odd day and these were odd responses?  Or is it reflective of a more common trend?

Here’s my conclusion.  Empathy is powerfully conveyed in the first, immediate moments of our response to others.  How we respond dramatically impacts the perception others will have of us, the emotion others will feel about us and the long term memory that others will hold in relation to us.  I’m also reminded of the fundamental need we as human beings have for empathy… especially in moments of vulnerability large and small.  I’ve yet to meet a professional who doesn’t think that they show empathy, however I’m equally certain that we can completely miss the moments to show it, meaningfully, wholeheartedly, humanely, kindly.

If we want individuals to grow, if we want teams to evolve and strengthen trust; if we want our best people to really love working with and for our business, if we want them to achieve that which seems impossible at work, we need to encourage our people to take risks, get things wrong, learn from their mistakes, regroup and go again.  That will require courage and vulnerability in spades. 

So, when they do take that leap, my question for leaders is very simple.  When it comes to empathy, how can all of us dial it up?

Until next time…..

Sarah Brummitt FFIPI AICI CIP