Some years ago an online friend of mine talked about having gone to the gym. While there, this guy came in wearing very strong cologne. She said it made her gag and that she didn’t understand why he was wearing so much.

I Can BEE Empathetic
Enokson via Compfight

I knew the answer, even if I’d never gone that far with it. Sometimes with guys there’s this conundrum where we know we’re going to work out but might not be the freshest we can be. We’re not in the mood at that moment to clean up, let alone shower, before we head to a place where we’re going to sweat even more. So, sometimes we try to do what was done back in the Renaissance period… cover it up with some kind of perfume.

Why did I know this answer if I’ve never done it? Because I’ve thought about it. I’ll own up to this one. I don’t go to a gym anymore, but when I did and I felt like other men might feel, I’d get a towel, wet it, do a quick wipe down, then use antiperspirant, since I don’t wear cologne. I figured doing even that little bit would make me bearable, and hope that no one would notice since I’d at least done something.

I didn’t know the answer just because I was a man. Whereas I understood that scenario, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about guys that they’ve done for… well, at least things I’ve seen since I was young.

For instance, what’s the deal with throwing paper in a urinal? You know that doesn’t flush right? What’s with all the hocking and spitting everywhere? Not only is that nasty but almost no one has the need to spit like that 24/7. I mean, I’ve noticed that not a single man in all my years who wasn’t sick did that sort of thing inside; ugh.

Pleasant stories? Not really, but they help to highlight something that’s been on my mind.

There’s always this assumption that people will know how to deal with someone they perceive is like them better than anyone else will. You know what? That’s not even close to true.

There are a lot of men who, even in today’s world, can’t fathom working for a woman, or even reporting to one. Yet, if they’re actually paying attention to their circumstances, they don’t fare better at work just because they report to a man.

The same goes for women. When I first started working in health care finance there was only myself and another man at the time, and I was the only minority. The vice president and office manager were women, yet neither was all that inspiring with the other women who worked there. All the supervisors were women; same thing.

At some point I was not only the only male, but I was the only assistant supervisor, otherwise known as team leader. I always had better relations with the employees I worked with than our supervisor did, and it extended to working every once in a while with other departments.

I was far from having anything similar with any of the people I worked with, and not only because of race and gender. Turns out we didn’t watch the same things on TV, I read way more than they did, I didn’t drink or party, I bowled 4 nights a week, and I wasn’t married or had any kids, which more than half the women there were and did.

Yet, I got along with everyone, and I carried that into every position, job and now contract I get. I think it’s pretty easy to say I still don’t ever have a lot in common with the people I work with.

Sand Sculpture - friends
Erich Ferdinand
via Compfight

How do I do it? What’s the big secret?

Years ago, when I defined leadership for the first time on this blog, I said that one of the major criteria for being a great leader is the concept of empathy. I said that empathy was finding a way to talk to others.

It’s actually a lot more than that. Empathy is finding a way to care enough about others so you can help and communicate with them.

For most people it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get them to work with you in a positive way. I tend to believe it’s because it’s not something most employees are used to seeing all that often. I like to think this is what allows me to have the ability to talk to people who work on every single level of an organization, or even in places like supermarkets or restaurants when I’m out.

Even though I’m somewhat of an introvert (in that I never start conversations… well, almost never if it’s not related to business), I seem to be able to find opportunities for making a connection with lots of different people. Trust me, that helps a lot because you never know when you’ll need a friendly face.

I like to think that because I’m pretty good at empathy, to the point that I do it when I’m not trying to, that I’ve had some job offers for things I’m not qualified for and I’ve had some people who decided that I was their “guy” and would do anything for me, even find someone to kill anyone who was bothering me if I asked them to… no, I never did that, but it was something interesting to have in one’s portfolio. lol

It’s possible that out of all the leadership recommendations and tips anyone’s ever talked about, empathy has been overlooked by a lot of folks. After all, I’ve written this blog for just over 16 years, years and it turns out this is only the 10th time I’ve even mentioned the word in an article; that’s a major shame, but I’ve made up for it here.

Empathy deserves more respect, and hopefully is something you’ll give some serious thought to. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept.
 

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