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Description: Considering the perspectives of others through authentic empathetic understanding.


Thinking Partner Notes

What’s the fiction: Real leaders move fast and break stuff. There’s little time for “feelings."

What's really true: Without understanding what others see, feel, and experience, you’re not leading. You’re just acting.


Example: Joann jumped on the Monday team call of six people, put the phone on mute and  opened up several emails she could read while "listening in on the call." This was just her way of being efficient. Daniel shared a new client opportunity, and details about all the work he had been doing this past month. When someone asked how much money he estimated  the new client could be worth, Daniel snapped back sarcastically and said, "One million bucks, none of you seem to care anyway, let's move on to someone else." Silence from everyone, except the subtle sound tapping of fingers on keyboards. The sharp tone was un-like him. Usually Daniel was a positive, energetic, and  easy going kind of guy. 

Uncomfortable with the silence, Joann started to share her report. After a couple minutes, she posed a simple question: "Have any of you worked with this client before?" Silence. Daniel was always the one who eagerly jumped into the discussion, but not today. She realized no one else was actually listening. She felt utterly disrespected.

When she described the incident to me, (I was working as her Thinking Partner) first she said felt angry with the others, then ashamed, as she knew the entire time Daniel was speaking her mind was elsewhere answering emails. She had done to him for the past six months, what everyone else did to her–multi-task at the expense of being present. She realized how Daniel had been the only one who had fully shown up for the calls, and how many times he must have felt totally ignored and deflated by the lack of engagement by others.

The next Monday she shared her story, and asked for Daniel to forgive her behavior. She asked others what was important to them about the Monday meetings, and they all said "collaborating" but admitted their behavior so far had been the opposite. Going forward, they decided to be "all-in on all calls." They became more efficient, more engaged, and had better financial metrics. Most important, they all felt more respected. Daniel left a mock million dollar bill on her keyboard that said "thank you."  


Things to try: 1) Practice observing people and their behavior in the context of their lives; 2) Practice engaging in deep conversation (preparing some questions you’d like to ask, but expecting the conversation deviate from them / keeping the conversation loosely bounded / eliciting stories and always asking “why?” to uncover deeper meaning); 3) Practice asking to be taught how to complete an unfamiliar task (have them physically go through the steps, and talk you through why they are doing what they do / ask them to vocalize what’s going through their mind as they perform a task or interact with an object).

Next steps: 1) Before your next team meeting, make a list of the team members who you expect to attend; 2) Next to each team member’s name, write down the needs and expectations that you think that each one brings to the meeting; 3) Predict how each team member will act during the meeting, including the issues that might provoke an emotional reaction (e.g. anger, fear) and how that reaction might manifest itself (e.g. silence, high animation); 4) When confronted by an unanticipated emotional reaction to an issue, ask your teammate questions to better understand the need that isn’t being fulfilled; 5) At the end of the meeting, compare your emotional predictions with the actual reactions. 

Additional Resources



Cultivating Empathy

What good looks like when you're cultivating empathy  and how you can master this capability.



Cultivating Empathy Media

Dive deep on cultivating empathy through articles, podcasts + more.