A nine year old boy pees in class leaving a puddle on the floor and his pants are now wet. A little girl walks by with a bowl of water, trips and spills it on it. All the empathy from their classmates went to the little boy. They tell the little girl to get out of the way. At the end of the day, the little boy says to the little girl, “You did that on purpose.” She replied, “I might wet my pants in class one day, too.”
When we talk about 21st century skills, we talk about communication, collaborative, creativity, blah…blah…blah… You have to deal with people. Whether you communicate with people virtually or in person, through tweeting, friending or skyping, you have to relate with people.
When Alan November speaks on global empathy, he often tells the story of a discussion with the head executive from a global bank. He asked, “What’s the most important 21st century skill?” The executive replied, “Empathy.” He was quite surprised by the response. Watch a talk at Asia Society conference or read a blog post by Walter McKenzie.
Empathy… understanding and valuing other people’s perspectives and points of view.
I am taking a class on instructional design and one of the first online discussion topics was working with teams. What does it take to make a virtual team work in particular? I wrote it’s about good communication. People talked about charters, technology systems, all these formal structures. I just want to get along with people. I bring candy on the first day of face to face trainings. Chocolate and candy transcend boundaries. And treating people with respect and learning cultural norms.
One of the three columns that are must read for me in the Sunday New York Times is Corner Office in the Business Section. (If you must ask, the other two are Lives in the Magazine and Modern Love in the Style Section.) The Corner Office has excerpts from interviews that Adam Bryant has with executives. An interview with Gary McCullough several years ago continues to resonate with me. I love this story from that interview:
“I’ll tell you another quick story. There was a woman named Rosemary who long ago retired from Procter & Gamble. Rosemary was a cafeteria worker, and at the time at P. & G., we actually had a cart that would come around at 7, 7:30 in the morning. They would ring a bell and you’d go get a cup of coffee and a doughnut or a bagel or something to start off your day.
And Rosemary had an uncanny ability to discern who was going to make it and who wasn’t going to make it. And I remember, when I was probably almost a year into the organization, she told me I was going to be O.K. But she also told me some of my classmates who were with the company weren’t going to make it. And she was more accurate than the H.R. organization was.
When I talked to her, I said, “How’d you know?” She could tell just by the way they treated people. In her mind, everybody was going to drop the ball at some point, and then she said: “You know you’re going to drop the ball at some point, and I see that you’re good with people and people like you and you treat them right. They’re going to pick up the ball for you, and they’re going to run and they’re going to score a touchdown for you. But if they don’t like you, they’re going to let that ball lie there and you’re going to get in trouble.”
There are always two versions on the same topic. Alan November talks about searching online for the same topic in different countries. Two different searches will come up. You get one point of view. A person on the same topic gets another view in the other country. And that’s what each of you believe. Media and digital literacy are essential part of an education now. Even if you don’t know the other side of the story, you need to understand that there is another side.
A Liberian teacher told me that at all the workshops he has been to, the consultants come with their tasks. “But you, you have the tasks, but you look at the people.”
Empathy. Something I think about a lot and wonder why more people don’t.
What if I just…listened?