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Empathy as a Way of Life

Empathy as a Way of Life

Some of you may know that I worked for Chick-fil-A for about five years between High School and College. In retrospect, I'm very thankful for this, and I often tell people that many of the leadership lessons I have learned to date come from that and my involvement for years with the Boy Scouts.

For part of my time with Chick-fil-A, I had the privilege of serving as a Training Coordinator for new employees. This was an incredible experience where I got to immerse myself in the core concepts behind Chick-fil-A's leadership model and share those with eager, learning minds. This is where I consciously embraced responsibility and started to take the learning process seriously.

One of the most memorable parts of the training process was a video called “Every Life Has a Story” that taught me a lesson about empathy which has been a defining part of my life ever since.

Every life has a story… if we bother to read it

The Cleveland Clinic recently published a similar video, which highlighted this great quote,

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant? -Henry David Thoreau

No matter where I am in life, I've found that this appreciation is crucial. The minute I forget that those around me have a deeper story of ups and downs than may be apparent at the surface is the minute that I've lost my ability to communicate or lead effectively.

I've made this mistake too many times in my life, so I've formulated a few mental questions to ask myself as I engage with anyone. This is especially important if I am exercising any level of authority in the conversation, but I also find it helpful in everyday conversations.

  1. What do I know about this person's interests and how they direct their life?
  2. What do I not know about this person? Is there a major aspect of their life that I know nothing about?
  3. Is there a reason I don't know this significant information about them? Could it be I simply haven't offered the welcoming environment needed for them to share?

This helps tremendously because often I find myself so absorbed in the message I am trying to get across that the conversation has become more of a monologue than a dialogue. These questions engage my mind and allow me to intentionally discuss topics that the other party can get excited about. After all, people enjoy talking about themselves. Why not communicate more effectively and learn more about the other person at the same time?
Engaging with others is more of an art than anything else, and this is one of the most important lessons in communication I've learned to date. What about you?

Question: What's the most important communication lesson you've learned? How has it affected your life?