Empathy commonly defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is generally linked to the idea of ‘feeling with’ another person or being able to put yourself in their place and feeling those feelings.
What if you don’t have it?
I speak with many business owners, particularly mompreneurs who are task-oriented in their approach and style and are becoming frustrated with the need to connect share feelings and connect on that level. While others engage on an emotional level with their colleagues, staff, and clients, they are focused on doing the tasks they (and others) need to do to achieve their goals/targets/checklist. As a result of their focus, others consider them harsh, too task-focused, uncaring and sometimes the b!@tch.
When I hear this story, I think back to my time working with teams (perhaps this is why I can relate to this story!).
I was the task-oriented person who was interested in understanding what the team needed (at a group and individual level) in order for them to achieve their goals and ensuring they got this.
If chatting about the weekend for 30 minutes on a Monday helped a colleague focus on their work, I’d provide this; if you wanted to share pictures of your kids, then sure, bring it on! Did I really care about these things? Maybe not, but I knew it mattered to them and would help them get their job done.
It wasn’t empathy in the way it is commonly defined, but I did (and do) care. In fact, focusing on providing the activities/support that others need to get their work done and ensuring they have what they need, comes from a place of caring – it’s just that my focus is on the task and doing, not the feeling. I call this task empathy.
What I mean by task empathy, is that I am able to put myself in someone else’s shoes, without directly engaging with their emotions. I still want for them what they need, I just approach it through a different lens.
What I have found, and what I discuss with my clients it, it is OK to have task empathy; but sometimes, others may not recognise it as empathy, nor understand its value or intention. What people with “task empathy” do well though, is keep the machine running in times of crisis and steady the ship when things get rocky. What we bring is balance.