My daughter's boyfriend, post-college, is trapped in a room with me, which is not good. I'm interrogating him. We'll return to him later.
"Empathize with the enemy," said Robert McNamara, former U.S. Secretary of Defense. You'd expect a Defense Secretary to be tough and, well, defensive. But for McNamara, empathy was a major life lesson.
What is empathy, anyway? It's not sympathy. In war, after you empathize with the enemy, you might kill him. Empathy means, like a good chess player, you study the board from all angles.
How do you do that?
"Be the other person," said psychologist Fritz Perls. Pretend, for a minute or two, you're him or her.
Suppose I'm having trouble with my graphic designer, Maxine. Her output is late and doesn't meet expectations. Maxine and I need to talk.
But first, following Fritz Perls's advice, I imagine being Maxine: "Ok," I say, "I'm Maxine. And Paul's right, I'm a complete screw-up."
No, no, no. That's not Maxine, that's me.
Maxine might say, "Paul doesn't give me enough time. And he's not clear; I'm never sure what he wants."
Is she right? Well, maybe. And even if she's not, it helps to anticipate her perspective.
Usually, we're so trapped in our own perspective, we don't even consider it a "perspective." We just assume we're right.
Let's go back to that boyfriend in the living room. How'd he get there?
One Sunday, my daughter, Becca, and her boyfriend, Max (yes, an alias) came for lunch, and I agreed to help Max prep for a job interview.
If you're a father, that's a wonderful assignment. You get to take Max into the living room, and ask him anything.
I could say, "So, Max, what are your intentions with my daughter?"
Max (puzzled): "Are they really going to ask that?"
Me: "Max, they could ask you ANYTHING."
Max and I rehearsed for a few hours. Then, as he and Becca got ready to leave, I wished him luck, and asked him to email how it went.
"Ok," he said, "but if you don't hear from me, I'm sure Rebecca will keep you posted." Then they drove off.
I was surprised by Max's response. "Is it so hard to email?" I asked my wife.
"Well," she said, "imagine you're him, and your interview goes badly—do you really want to tell Becca's father?"
Turns out, Max got the job.
But not the girl. My daughter just married a lovely man, very empathic, who understands many things, including email.
Tip: Shift perspective. (You can always return to yours.)
© Copyright 2013 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.