While composing part two of this short series on Progress Through Compassion,
the topic of empathy often comes up when I hear from management teams who are struggling to balance productivity with workplace independence. Employees want to be able to assert their independence as everyone works differently toward the same goal. This is a beneficial thing, however it can also be detrimental. Many times, employers find themselves feeling a loss of direction as their employees scatter into different procedures and methods.
So how do we find that sweet spot where our employees feel appreciated, respected, and independently productive? For many in an employer’s position, this is where empathy becomes a skill to learn.
Here are two key points from that new baseline to regain balance and productivity.
Expand your vocabulary to avoid words like “control” or “policy”.
These words are obviously functional and important in any working environment. But what if we flip that into this: Control is actually a function of maintaining balance. Approaching the same principle with a less polarizing perspective by simply switching a word helps to give you a platform while letting your employee stay open to ideas and even constructive criticism.
Take notes- Not about work. Not about profit margins or Power Points. Take notes about what makes your employee tick. What makes them thrive? What changes their demeanor or makes their day?
We often get lost in the technical side of conducting business while losing site of WHO is conducting it. This is your baseline- your key to moving forward.
I often think of a particularly fantastic Seinfeld reference where “Anyone can take reservation.”
Think of this as learning how to “*hold* the reservation.”
Most days, we set out to experience the world with our own perspective- Our own shoes. But what happens when empathy is a core value with no set line? How do we draw it? What if we don’t know how to express or experience it in the first place?
Empathy is a peculiar thing. It’s a vital form of existence that some possess to an almost torturous degree. We feel deeply both positive and negative things. It’s a gift and a curse all in the shape of one human. Turbulent and ever changing, it can make or break a life. The goal for empaths is to balance and sustain it for as long as possible. We will never give up feeling what we do because we’re lucky we can. On the opposite end, we wish it would stop to let us feel nothing for a few.
As I experience empathy in my core relationships, I struggle to find a line between two key points:
– Letting it become so strong that I lose sight of my purpose and focus entirely too much on whether or not someone else is struggling.. and..
– Letting it be as it is so that I may trust that things work out as they will.
Just as it applies to our personal relationships, empathy can be the key to progress in our work relationships. It can be the one link that fills the gap between managing your workload and owning it. Throughout the next two weeks, I will be discussing a few key points to help find, balance, and pursue progress through compassion.
I took a break from as much as possible yesterday to focus on using the feeling of heaviness the best way I could. I still couldn’t. The news surrounding so many recent events has had millions of us shaken and confused. For me, silence is key. I want to stay out of the frenzy, inform myself as much as possible of the necessary facts, and figure out a way to help.
I drove into a dusty sunrise hearing chatter on the radio with updates of new statistics and speculation. I knew the recent storms and violence shed a lot of blood and I was saddened by the fact that I cannot give mine.
Due to my heart condition, I cannot donate blood. As I see Red Cross trucks setting up in the parking lots of various offices in the city, I thought about those who can’t use them. Here are a few ways to help when you can’t give yours for a host of personal reasons.
1. Pay it forward- This does not require money as many of us do not have enough of that to give, either. This can be in the form of helping someone carry heavy items to their car from the store. Your act of recognizing another human as a fellow human is priceless. This can even include going with someone who can donate blood- Support is key.
2. Donate time- Many of our resources (time, energy, supplies) quickly dissipate once help is needed elsewhere. If you’re able, donating time to spend with people who need company or kids who need distraction is more valuable than any check you can write.
3. Volunteer at a shelter- This is one I’ve always had a heart for ever since spending my first Volunteer Thanksgiving in one. Serve food to those who are not only dealing with the heartache of a chaotic world situation but are also facing their own. Sit down and share some conversation over coffee with fellow volunteers or guests. You will be amazed at what you learn.
4. Don’t click the bait- In our world of instant information, news streams and media channels are running rampant with headlines and feeds. There is a major setback to this. The rush to get the first lead is a prime breeding ground for sensationalism and misinformation. Help us save the unnecessary stories from polluting the real ones by stopping to consider if it’s correct, if it’s necessary, and if it’s going to help someone else.
5. Call your representative- This is one not many of us think about on a daily basis. If you have concerns over policies regarding the response to catastrophe or the availability of weaponry.. Really anything- Call your representatives and voice your opinion. You may think that your voice won’t count or be heard. But even 10 voices are really, really loud. Be that guy.
6. Inform yourself- I cannot stress this one enough. Informing yourself of current events and causes is the groundwork for making change happen. We cannot move forward without knowing why we should. It is crucial.
7 years ago today, I took the first of many chances.
Chances– 7 letters spell the outline of what your life could be. I’ve had to figure out how to spell it for my world. Here’s what 7 years and 7 letters have taught me:
C– Change– This has been the most challenging aspect for me. The decision to change comes first. The struggle to keep it stays the whole time.
H– Help– Helping myself became the key to helping anyone else. After realizing the difference between doing it selfishly and doing it productively, it has become one of my most valuable resources. It is often the first word of advice I share with anyone struggling through a personal transformation. Breathe in your own oxygen first in order to share your energy with others.
A– Ambition– Setting goals can be overwhelming. If you’re anything like me, you’re totally not OK with waiting for them. This is where the smallest goals are the biggest. I’ve found that setting small, seemingly mundane goals throughout my day or week has been the only way to keep the long-term ones from burning up in a cloud of flames..
N– New– We have all heard about the days being new and how we’re supposed to magically forget our troubles along with the last one. Here’s what I’ve learned in 7 years of trying to convince myself that it’s possible. It isn’t. New, to me, means accepting new perspectives from wherever they show. New means appreciating a pair of thrift store jeans you couldn’t ever wear before because there weren’t many size 28 Talls around. New, to me, means looking back and finding the experiences of yesterday becoming an avenue for tomorrow.
C– Challenge– Challenge comes in many forms. One of my favorite and most loathed- Running. I love it. I despise it. It’s agony some days and pure bliss through others. It’s a challenge and it’s ever-changing.
E– Experience– We all have it. How do we share it? The point is- We get to. My scars tell mine quite literally. My Frankenbody is the paper and I am the pen.
S– Silent Stories– 7 years of transforming physically, mentally, and emotionally has taught me something I never knew I’d need. I’ve finally applied a term to this. These are the stories your experiences tell without words. No one may know where our past started or how it ended up to be our present. They may judge us before they know. Even once they do, they may still. But our silent stories are worth more than we can ever imagine as long as we tell them each day in our actions.
7 years have given me my life back in more ways than I thought possible. Mostly, they have handed me an infinite amount of chances.
How do you spell your chances?
How do you take on something that overwhelms you?
How do you turn doubt into determination?
How do you translate someone’s perception of you or your actions?
These are questions I’ve asked myself as I go through yet another shift in my Darah-fied life. I keep coming back to the same conclusion:
Transformation isn’t about your image. It’s about the image of everything else to you.
Let’s break it on down now!
Transformation isn’t about your image.
How are we presenting ourselves as authentically as possible? The truth of the matter is this- Our ability to be authentic requires us to do some ridiculously tough but valuable work in looking at ourselves. Human nature is to run from discomfort and one of the most uncomfortable things in life is to look at our own flaws while simultaneously displaying our own vulnerability in the form of.. well.. every bit of what makes us who we are.
Transformation is about the image of everything else to you.
It’s about perception. It’s all in the approach and how you choose to navigate things you see and experience. This is where the aforementioned questions come in for me. Allow me to present a super detailed info-graphic**:
**Not an accurate depiction of how it looks in my mind.***
*** Note to self: Work on design skills.
If you’re anything like me, an idea can quickly become a challenge. This can be a good thing! The problem is this: If I don’t focus on how I personally approach that challenge, it can then become an obstacle. The obstacle starts to seem insurmountable. I start to realize how done I am with stressing over it and I’m back to where I started before I even began.
Lately, I’ve shifted my focus to small changes instead of giant ones. This strategy allows me to maintain some balance while everything else is shifting. While I have undergone some pretty sizable transformations in my 33 years, none of them have been without self-doubt, outright failures, and numerous “restarts”- You know those Mondays where you promise yourself you’ll start fresh right after you enjoy a ridiculously lazy and gluttonous Sunday night. I have done this using three key thoughts.
*Missing a personal goal isn’t failing as long as I’ve successfully tried.
*Smaller goals in daily life can be as simple as drinking more water than you did yesterday.
True transformation begins with looking at that line between our own view and theirs.
True transformation shows us our strengths, weaknesses, and willingness to challenge them.
I sat here for longer than I’d like to admit staring at a blank document- The cursor flashing like a four-way stop light, words ready to be typed once I figured out which ones to use and in what order to do so. The irony was not lost on me.
I’m writing about overwhelm and I couldn’t seem to step back long enough to just let it happen. Therein lies my first point.
1. Write down whatever five words show up first.
It doesn’t matter what they’re about. They could be about the morning or about something stressful in the office. They could be about dinner last night. From there, write 5 more that have even a slight relevance to them.
In one step, I’ve gone from objects of every day life to concepts of things I enjoy. Let’s take it a step further.
This strategy can be applied to anything your brain reacts to as an attack. We are wired to immediately deflect these in the form of doubt. We doubt this will work. We doubt we have the ability to overcome whatever is creating our stress.
2. Visualize everything you can.
Five apples into one bowl. Five people into one car. Five concepts on one hand. It can be daunting to come up with FIVE things to write. But visualizing the fact that you can count them on ONE hand will ignite a different part of your brain that involves that familiar fight or flight response to pressure. Visualizing putting five big things onto one surface lets you know it’s manageable and definitely not as chaotic as you want to think it is.
3. Count your steps.
This can be taken literally or figuratively. There is a technique in anxiety and stress management called “grounding” that I’ve found to be highly valuable in dealing with those moments of overwhelming blankness. You know the ones- A crippling sense of absolutely everything and nothing going on in your head at once causing a massive short-circuit and a blown fuse.. Maybe that’s just me.
Literally, the act of stepping away to walk and regroup is highly effective. As you walk, count. As you count, just keep doing that. You’re clearing your head to make way for something simple and naturally restorative.
Figuratively, you’re already over half way through the five key steps to overcoming your situation.
4. Think of two things you look forward to having settled.
Being an extremely visual person, I consider myself lucky to see this as literally switching off as many lights as possible to focus on just one or two spotlights. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s relatively easy for us to just shut them all off and walk away from a dark room. We don’t have to look at it then and will somehow deal with the mess later. The problem with this is in the build up. That room is still there full of the mess that has yet to be sorted. This is where the idea of pulling any two things out will help.
Consider it this way: Organizing your tasks into a list by order of importance and deadline is the first thing to cross off of it!
5. Give yourself a break.
This can be the toughest step to take. We are wired to be our own worst enemy. It’s a primal nod to how we evolve as people. If we didn’t challenge ourselves, we wouldn’t get past merely existing. In a world full of constant static and distractions, it’s easy to let that natural self-challenge to become self-doubt instead. There are two common and valid hangups with this step.
The concept of giving ourselves a break can seem counterproductive.
The question I get most often:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we are off taking a break?”
My question back:
“How are we supposed to make progress if we’re too exhausted from not taking one?”
Here’s what I mean: We have to recharge. We deserve to do it and trust that it is part of a strategy in reaching a goal. We cannot reach them if we’re on empty. Taking a break for even ten minutes of mindless Solitaire is more beneficial than we may realize. It isn’t all or nothing. It’s ten minutes of putting cards in order.
The biggest key I try to convey to any one of my peers struggling with stress and exhaustion is this: You deserve to trust yourself and trust the fact that it will get figured out. You deserve to slow down and let it.
It’s a war without words as they’ve scattered with as much energy as you wish you had.
It’s a silent corner in the loudest room.
It’s chaos encased in an unmistakable shell of uncertainty.
It’s pushing and twisting every fiber of who you actually are and convincing you otherwise almost the whole time.
It’s elation when you see yourself and horror when you don’t.
It’s a plea for peace and a call for a fight.
It’s needing anyone to understand and being frustratingly relieved when they aren’t there to do it.
It’s the pain of feeling alone and the peace of knowing you aren’t.
It’s a quest for relief however it shows up.
It’s trusting that it will.
It’s a fight to breathe when you don’t want to anymore.
It’s a burden until it isn’t.
You’re a burden until you know you aren’t.
It’s a fight to see what’s worthwhile.
It’s a fight because YOU are.
It’s your struggle, your triumph, your will to use it.
It’s not your fault.
In my personal struggle, my hope is to somehow use the dominance of that pain to dilute someone else’s. If you are suffering, please reach out even if just to exist with another person for a bit. There is help and you deserve to find it.