Woman by the Pole

Empathy Kindness Respect


Key Point: We need to expect kindness and compassion to be a fundamental principle in organizations; not a “nice to have” quality, but a “must do.” Why? It’s the right way to treat each other as human beings AND it makes a difference to business results (a research/data based comment, Google it).

My wife Kathleen, visits her 94-year-old mother most every day. She often takes her on a walk to the main cafeteria. Kathleen noticed that there is an elderly woman who comes to the dining area and stands next to a pole by herself for long periods of time. As Kathleen sat down with her mom for tea the other day, another woman resident sharing the same table, pointed to the woman by the pole. “Ah… There’s my friend.” She went on to explain that the woman by the pole was very lonely, a recent widow, and couldn’t speak any English. “How do you communicate with her?” Kathleen asked. Her friend responded, “Well we don’t talk, but everyday I go up to her and just give her a hug, a long smile, and stand beside her.” Hmm.

Over my career, I’ve seen meanness more often than I’d like to believe in the workplace: People make fun of others’ appearance (too fat, too ugly, too skinny, too skanky, too whatever). And of course there is the ever popular gossiping. Even worse though, emotionally immature managers have somehow talked themselves into believing that giving someone “hell” is an acceptable way of treating those who they disagree with, have made a mistake, or they simply don’t like. But kindness and compassion are key ingredients in learning from failure, because they increase what researchers call “psychological safety.” Innovation depends on people learning from failure. Want people around you to “shut down?” Yell at or humiliate them a few times, and that’s exactly what will happen. They will stop sharing their ideas or views with you. (Keep in mind I am a huge fan of tough-minded feedback and coaching; just do it with respect).  

I recently saw a presentation from a Facebook executive, and I was curious how much EMPATHY is a theme throughout this social media giant. The goal is to have Facebook employees better understand what it’s like to use their own product under challenging conditions (for example, the one billion disabled customers, people using Facebook with little bandwidth, etc), and help them take this under consideration for their work. It got me thinking. Maybe we need an empathy lab to help all employees emotionally develop through designing and practicing kindness and compassion. There are still too many disenfranchised workers “quietly standing by the pole.” See them.

Character Moves: 

  1. Kindness, empathy and compassion are values that require intentional practice and we have a right to expect that from each other. Of course, we need to get results. As I often say, “no results means no job.” But I also want to add this: “Be a jerk, and no job either.”

Empathy Labs in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I recently wrote a fairly “aggressive” piece of feedback to one of our voice over talents. Ultimately, I felt bad about my tone, and knew I could have handled it better. The person needed the direction they received, but just like there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, there’s a line between “c’mon, I know you got this next time,” and being a jerk about it. Everyone knows it’s not all accolades and roses out there (and it shouldn’t be), but there’s no pride in being a punk.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis