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Children can do it Rockbrain is a common enemy in my fiancee’s superheroes club. He epitomizes the “my way and no other way” mentality. He is inflexible and unwilling to compromise. Worse, he refuses to change his perspective to account for those he interacts with.
The club is designed for 5 year old children with social cognitive disorders. They have issues with theory of mind, perspective taking, black and white thinking, and so forth. Through exercises, reinforcement, and a supportive environment she slowly provides the skills needed to survive in our social world.
“Can you be flexible?” is a common phrase I hear her asking the children. Every now and again she levels the question at me and I stop dead in my tracks. Am I being obstinate and not taking someone else’s mental model and well being into account?
Mental whatsits? The Fifth Discipline discusses mental models at length. Fundamentally, they are the way we, as individuals, perceive something to be. They are based on our history of interactions. These are perspectives. As such, they can vary between different individuals and, indeed, some people may have the completely wrong idea.
Theory of whosawha? Theory of mind is a skill we learn at roughly 4 years old. It allows us to cognitively understand that other individuals perceive the world, situations, and interactions differently based on their unique conditions, interactions, and the various limitations and advantages they possess.
Adults can do it, too We, as adults, are supposed to be balanced individuals capable of taking other peoples’ perspectives into account. Yet, how frequently do you ask yourself, “How will this affect my team?” Even better, “What are my team’s current thoughts, feelings, emotions?” What about, “Am I taking my employee’s well being into account?”
At the age of 4, we learned that others have unique minds. But, how does this evolve over our lifetime? Obviously, at an intuitive level, we use these skills for various systems; yet, how often do we actively apply these cognitive developments?
When was the last time you sat down and actually thought about how happy your employees are?
That e-word I’ve been grasping at Lean’s concept of “respect for people.” I clearly agree with it. In fact, I find it hard for anyone to not agree with respect! It’s that golden rule, right? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yet, where does this all stem from? Why do some people show more respect than others?
This, in and of itself, is a rather large topic. I’m lucky enough to live with someone who has researched the core topic at great length while earning a degree in psychology. The root of respect is empathy.
Empathy, our ability to recognize and share feelings and emotional states, is a fundamental glue that holds together groups of people. Without empathy, the world would be a much darker, uglier place.
Yet, how has empathy evolved in the work place? Do we apply it generously? Or, do we hold it close and use it sparingly, afraid, anxious that having empathy has alternative meanings, ones that we do not want to project in our professional careers.
The worst situation possible If no empathy is applied, only anxiety, tension, and poor performance can result. Remember, employees are not cogs. We are not machines. With a machine, doubling the machines readily increases output. With a human, adding a second workers can actually reduce your performance.
So, in the worst, we do not show empathy, we do not treat the human as a human. As I always cite, “Your employees are very aware of the one life they have to live” (Peopleware).
The best case Your employees see you as a nice person that’s considerate. They feel valued. They have a voice and can share it. They are not afraid to make you aware of broken process or systems as they know the only repercussion will be that the malignant segment will be corrected in a positive way, without punishment to people.
Systems that punish foster fear and fear fosters deception. Deception is only human--it’s actually part of theory of mind. When one is afraid, one is less inclined to act in a way that will introduce more instability and risk, especially when one has experienced a culture of firing, failure, and anger.
In summary This is a huge topic that’s worthy of more than a single blog post.
As managers, we must be empathetic towards our employees. We must understand that each is unique. Above all, we must recall that all of our employees are human. They must be treated with empathy and respect if we want them to truly do what we are employing them for. Any other path will solely lead to failure and frustration.
Please post your thoughts! I’d love to hear your perspectives! As always, thank you for reading, your attention is priceless.
About the Author
Andrew Andreas Grapsas is a game programmer at Arkadium, Inc. developing facebook games. Previously, he was a gameplay and animations programmer at Kaos Studios|THQ, and intern systems programmer on Medal of Honor.
Andrew is actively writing and programming for various projects. You can read more at his blog aagrapsas.com. He promises to update it soon.