Last year I asked one of my former colleagues for the best piece of advice he could give me. “Lead with empathy” he responded quickly, almost like it was tattooed on his mind. “By going into an interaction with someone, no matter the type of the interaction, if we assume that they have the best of intentions, we develop patience and empathy.”
These three words of wisdom, “lead with empathy,” have occupied a large place in my mind over the last year. To “lead with empathy” is not our default setting. We are not hard-wired to assume good intent from strangers, we are generally skeptical about their initial intentions. Many of our default settings are to be angry, frustrated or annoyed if someone is late, if traffic is bad, or if we’re placed on hold for longer than 30 seconds. By “leading with empathy” we are forced to think of the reverse; we withhold judgment and ultimately we will allow ourselves to have a more positive, meaningful experience.
If we step back in those annoying, mundane situations and put ourselves in the shoes of the other person, we empathize with them. We understand that they were late because their kid is sick or traffic is bad because an ambulance had to pass by en route to the hospital. These situations aren’t always likely but we cannot rule out the possibility of them either. By choosing to lead with empathy, we are choosing a healthy mindset - an appreciative approach.
By leading with empathy, we seek to understand, and in doing so, we build relationships and open lines of communication. By leading with empathy, we allow our interactions to carry more meaning. By leading with empathy, we create a world of positive interactions.