As a community, we claim to value people, yet our practise often conflicts with this. We need to be far better at being empathetic and showing it in our actions as well as our words.

So often, people in our community – from a right and proper instinct and commitment to being better – impose an impossible set of standards on people and organisations who are new to the journey.

Too often, we see where people are and what their goals are, and impose standards more appropriate to our own real, imagined or desired situation, and find those we seek to help to be lacking. We see organisations who have a need to do big things, and say “Don’t be big; big is WRONG and BAD”. We see organisations who are fearful and seek solace in estimates, and we call them stupid. We see people who are trying very hard and condemn them as “Half-Arsed“. We see context we don’t understand and describe it as wasteful:

Bee Watchers

This is the kind of sneering judgemental thing I see tweeted frequently

Our basic approach to people’s current being, and what they have come to value, and the things that their organisation is perfectly designed to produce is to condemn it. To offer instead, simplistic maxims that are really hard to achieve. To respond to all the pain and struggle they experience with Stop it!

In doing this, it says more about us than our customers. We are meeting our own needs to be The Expert, and using our own situation and experience to define what’s acceptable. This comes across as dogmatic and judgemental and is highly discouraging to making actual progress, and a failure to achieve actual helping.

How much more would we achieve for those we seek to help if we worked from their situation, and met their needs? If we stopped advising people, and instead, spent time understanding them? If we spent time in their problem space, not rushing to our solutions? If we actually bore some of the pain and risk of change?

If we fundamentally committed to sharing their experience and working with them.

When I talk to customers, this is what’s going through my head, and what I try to express to them as the basis of how I can help:

Actually, this explains empathy even better:

We need to profoundly change how we think and how we work if we want to make the difference we claim to value.

If you don’t have empathy for people’s context and needs, and won’t understand their worldview, how can you expect them to adopt your worldview?

Acknowledgements

Thanks to

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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Empathetic Coaching by Martin Burns is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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