12 Rules of Kindness – Rule 1 – Shoes

Rule 1: Shoes

Don’t we all have those rough days at work for ourselves and in dealing with others? It’s only natural that when you spend the majority of your week at work, the people there will get on your nerves. Whether someone is sexist, sucks up to the boss or whinges about everything, there’s bound to be someone who annoys you. There could even be a colleague that reminds you of a childhood bully; aggressive and often causing tense situations. The way we handle these difficult co-workers has a profound effect on our mental health, and our career as well. I’m all about kindness, and how it’s one of the most powerful weapons we have against the bullies and negative people of the world.

You might also notice that your workmates are struggling, they have financial pressures, less work and they are home schooling their kids who constantly interrupt zoom meetings!! In all of these situations, the most important thing however is, what did you do? Did you escape (for the moment), display the same behaviour back to the other person, or seek to understand yourself and the other people in this interaction? Or was your response just, I hear you! Does this really display empathy to your difficult or struggling workmate? NO WAY! Empathy is so important today and, it is essential that leaders include empathy as an important leadership skill in creating a future of work foundation. As a leader of people and teams, it’s important that you know how you interact and relate with others and how others see you. Having this knowledge will take you to even greater heights as a leader in the twenty first century!  

Elizabeth A. Segal, Ph.D., who is a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University refers to “Empathy Is More Than “I Hear you.” As Prof Segal indicates when we think of empathy we are likely to imagine “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” It’s true that if we imagine what that person is feeling or thinking we might feel empathy, but not necessarily. Being sad with another person might eliciting sympathy or pity, but not necessarily feelings of empathy.

Prof. Segal says that when we see someone suffering—crying because a beloved parent died—we may feel for the person; that is, compassion and sympathy for such a painful loss. But we may not feel with the person; that is, understand what the other person’s sadness feels like. Or, we might share their sad feelings, but then interpret them from our own perspective. We might think about how we would feel after such a personal loss, not how the other person is actually feeling. Prof. Segal shows that empathy is an umbrella term that can be broken down into two levels: Interpersonal empathy which is concerned with improving relationships between individuals, while social empathy is concerned with improving the relationships and rules of behaviour between different groups and cultures. Experiencing the full array of empathy includes sharing physical and emotional feelings while knowing that those feelings belong to the other person. 

Paul Thagard, Ph.D., is a Canadian philosopher and cognitive scientist. His books include The Cognitive Science of Science: He says that empathy works by analogy, mirror neurons, or embodied simulation. The analogy, mirroring, and simulation modes of empathy can be complementary because a good friend or skilled psychotherapist can use all of them to develop a rich understanding of another person. You can feel someone else’s pain by reasoning about it, perceiving it, or by using your unconscious embodied rules to simulate it. These deliberate, automatic, and dynamic modes of empathy can all help you to understand other people by putting yourself in their shoes.

Michelle Simversten a Director of Corporate marketing emphases that, “Leading with Empathy Is Now More Important than Ever.” Alot has changed in recent times as illustrated by Michelle. To weather the storm, organizational leaders need to guide their teams with empathy and it is increasingly valued as a quality that strong leaders should have. All of these personal issues are amplified during these ties and unsurprisingly, they can affect your team’s ability to be productive, healthy, and happy. Michelle concludes by saying whether your organization is trying to support your newly remote workforce, or providing some assurance during these turbulent times, a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

Tim Soutphommasane who was Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner and author of The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society, highlightstheidea of the Harmony Walk. This is based on a simple proposition: that people, from all backgrounds, can walk in solidarity. It’s a simple proposition, yet a challenging task. Because solidarity requires compassion. Before we can walk with someone, we may first need to walk in their shoes. Doing this can be easy when you share a lot in common. But when you have little in common with someone, stepping into their shoes involves less a step and more a leap; an imaginative leap!

What Tim Soutphommasane wants us tofocus on is empathy, experience and imagination. Unfortunately, the task of stepping into the shoes of others isn’t as simple as an episode of Quantum Leap. We can’t magically put ourselves into another person’s body. The work of empathy can be slow and difficult. Yet it is vital to society’s preparedness to walk in solidarity with our fellow citizens.

Tim says that “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviours greater than the sum of our individual inclinations …”

There are some signs that empathy may be on the rise says Tim, and that our digital age could be presenting new opportunities. For instance, some are observing the emergence of a new genre of empathy-based video games. Some gaming developers are focusing on games that ask players to inhabit their characters’ emotional worlds, as opposed to the usual shoot-’em-up or thrills-and-spills we associate with computer games. Australian anti-racist activists have also recently developed a new mobile phone app that allows a user to gain a virtual experience of being on the receiving end of racial discrimination. Any technological or generational advance, though, is not a panacea. Our human frailty is eternal. There will inevitably be times when attempts at such individual or collective self-understanding will fail. They can fail because people want to protect their social power, because their social power makes them arrogant, and because some people may not have enough power in the first place. This is a reminder for all of us that empathy – that basic moral task of stepping into the shoes of another.

I believe and my experience shows that you can be strong as a Leader and always be kind and being in the shoes of others. You can be courageous as a Leader and show fear. Leadership isn’t a role or title, it is a choice and action and as shown in my book, Leadership Attitude, you have the opportunity to change attitude. Here is how you can use kindness (and mindfulness) to deal with those colleagues that push our buttons:

  • Understand Your Triggers. Everyone has buttons that, when pressed, can provoke a strong reaction. Yours could come from your family, how you were raised, or what you believe in, and may or may not be logical. Whether intentionally or not, these points are bound to be triggered through our day-to-day life. It’s important to do some self-reflection to identify your trigger points so that you can be more prepared to handle it when someone inevitably triggers you. Instead of snapping instantly, take a pause and consider what has happened and why. Is this person actually pushing your button, or are you just being too sensitive? How can you respond to the situation in a kinder, healthier way?
  • Anger Isn’t an Option. Anger is harmful to your health, your career and your judgement. Even if someone at work is purposefully trying to make you angry, returning that anger will do irreparable damage to your reputation. It might be an instinct to react in anger when you’ve been treated poorly, but you can learn to avoid immediately turning to this reaction when faced with conflict. Mindfulness is key; stopping to take deep breaths before you respond allows you to handle the situation with kindness, calmness and rationality. If you really cannot control yourself, then the next best thing is to excuse yourself and step away from the confrontation. There’s no shame in choosing the ‘flight’ instead of ‘fight’ reaction.
  • Reflect On Why You Feel This Way and Learn From The Opportunity. Sometimes, it’s not actually the other person that is the issue at all. While this can be hard to realise, it will only benefit you and your workplace relationships in the long run. Maybe this co-worker bothers you so much because they represent what you don’t like about yourself? The other thing to do is try and be grateful for the experience, no matter how unpleasant. Each conflict can be turned into a learning opportunity, where you heal and discover more about yourself.
  • Show Kindness to Yourself and your Challenging Co-workers. Remember that holding onto anger and negativity ultimately harms ourselves more than anyone else. Instead of instantly reacting to a tense situation and adding fuel to the fire, take a deep breath, put yourself in their shoes and think about what kindness you’d want someone to show you if you were in that same position. Being the bigger person is rewarding; your well-being is improved and you’re showing your leaders that you can handle conflict with ease. Have the courage to be kind, even to those who hurt you.

And, put yourself in their shoes. When someone is hurting you, why is it that they’re doing so? More often than not, it’s because they’re hurting inside. Keeping this in mind will help you be more compassionate towards your difficult co-worker. You’ll be able to understand just why they’re acting the way they are, and that will help you cope with their antagonistic behaviour. It also allows you to step back and look at the bigger picture, reducing conflict and helping you be less stubborn in your own views. Reflection on the previous stories in this chapter will give you new perspectives?

Author – Sonia McDonald

Sonia McDonald is changing the face of leadership across the globe. She believes we should lead with kindness and courage, from the heart, and is known for her mantra ‘Just Lead’. She leads by example in all these areas and through her transformational coaching, leadership training programs and cultural transformation for organisations and encourages others to do the same. Sonia has helped thousands of people on their leadership journey to become the best version of themselves and in turn, inspire and bring out the best in others.

Sonia is a founder and CEO of McDonald Inc., LeadershipHQ and Global Outstanding Leadership Awards and the newly launched Courage Conference. For more than 25 years, Sonia has been on the front lines of leadership and she is beyond committed to her mission around building a world of great leaders.

She has held leadership positions worldwide and through experience, research and study come to realise what it takes to be a truly great leader. She has been recognised by Richtopia as One of the Top 250 Influential Women across the Globe and Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs.

Sonia has an ability to speak bravely and authentically about her own development as a leader, personal and career challenges in a way which resonates with her audience. She is a leading coach, an award-winning published author of newly released First Comes Courage, Leadership Attitude and Just Rock It! and has become an in-demand keynote speaker on leadership, kindness and courage.

Sonia has become recognised for her commentary around the topic of leadership, kindness, empathy and courage as well as building outstanding leadership across the Globe.