Empathy: What the World Needs Now


The world today seems a much scarier place than it did 15 or 20 years ago. The culture in the US has shifted in ways that create isolation and frustration to dangerous levels, and we see the results in tragedies over and over again.

And I haven’t had to look at the headlines to see it.  I’ve found this lack of empathy in the lives of the people around me.

The truth is that humanity is wired to be self-centered.  We all naturally see the world in relation to how it affects us and make decisions based on perceived personal benefit.  In the US, with our high value for individualism, this tendency has been given free rein, with occasional catastrophic results.

However, when these tragedies happen, most voices are calling out for “remedies” that seem superficial to me.  I believe the root cause is that people have not developed empathy, or the ability to see the world from another’s perspective.


Personal Maturity

A mark of personal maturity is the ability to put others first, to consider their needs before you consider your own.  In generations past, this quality was valued and celebrated.  In our culture today, people are both ridiculed and praised for this level of maturity.

  • People are often considered a “doormat” or accused of being naïve at best, a fool at worst, when they put others first.
  • People may be praised as heroic or as a respected leader when they put the needs of others first, especially in a crisis.

This maturity level goes by several different labels:  an element emotional intelligence, the key characteristic of level 5 leadership, the foundation of connective influence

However, it seems to me that developing this level of maturity depends on whether you have a scarcity mindset.  John Maxwell says, “Scarcity thinking is all about me.  It says, ‘There’s not enough to go around.  I had better get something for myself and hold on to it with all I have’” (Maxwell, 226).

With this mindset, it is impossible to think of others and to put their needs first.  If we want to develop empathy, we have to start by replacing our scarcity mindset.


Combating Scarcity Thinking

Could it really be that simple?  I believe so.

I once heard, long ago, that the founder of the JC Penny stores was a generous man who tried to out-give God, so I looked a little into his life.  I discovered that the original name of his store was “The Golden Rule,” and he conducted business under that philosophy: “This company’s success is due to the application of the Golden Rule to every individual, the public and to all of our activities” (Barmash).

When he died, he was a very wealthy and successful businessman, in spite of having been wiped out during the Depression.  One of his applications of this principle was in how he treated his employees, whom he referred to as associates, by implementing a profit sharing plan.

There are other examples we can look at – C. J. Walker, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, to name a few – to find that an abundance mindset can make all the difference.

“Abundance thinking is the mindset of people of significance, and it has nothing to do with how much they have. … But whatever they have, they are willing to share because they don’t worry about running out” (Maxwell, 227).  This is the mindset necessary to develop empathy.

If you want to begin cultivating an abundance mindset in your own life, start with gratitude.  I challenge you to daily write down three to five things you are grateful for in your life.  Before long, you will begin to see the world through a different lens – the lens of abundance.


Take It Deeper

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive these monthly posts in your inbox, you can subscribe at Troy Communications Blog.


Works Cited:

Barmash, I. (1971) J. C. Penney of Store Chain Dies; Built Business on ‘Golden Rule.’ The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/02/13/archives/j-c-penney-of-store-chain-dies-built-business-on-golden-rule-j-c.html

Collins, J.  (2001).  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t.

Goleman, D. (2005) Emotional Intelligence

Goulston, M. and Ullmen, J.  (2013).  Real Influence: Persuade without Pushing and Gain without Giving In.

Maxwell, J. C. (2015) Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters.


A Process for When Conflict Comes Along


I was recently asked how someone could deal with a person who dominated a conversation, never pausing long enough to let anyone else “get a word in edgewise.”  She had recently been at a dinner party where this had happened, and she had been quite at a loss as how to address the problem

We have all faced similar situations, where it isn’t clear what the best way to resolve the situation may be.  What I find is that many people are haven’t had the training to know how to address these situations.

Conflict is inevitable.  It is not possible that you will be in harmony with everyone around you at all times.  Whenever there are two or more people working together, there will be disagreement and conflict.

It is how we respond (or react) to conflict that defines our relationships. 

The authors of Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High summed up the dilemma as “how can I be 100% honest … and 100% respectful?” (p. 22).  The question comes down to the “nature vs. nurture” debate, whether some people are born as natural conflict resolvers or whether these are skills that can be learned.


A Process for Resolving Conflict

I believe that conflict management is a skill that can be learned, a key element of emotional intelligence, and the sooner we learn how to address these conflicts constructively, the better:

Whenever I think about resolving a conflict, I always go back to “The 5 Core Concerns,” one of which is autonomy.  The best resolution will be one in which all parties have a say.

In his book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions (p. 175-177), John Maxwell describes the process he uses to address problematic behavior, which meets this need for autonomy:

  • Meet privately ASAP to discuss their behavior
  • Ask for their side of the story
  • Try to come to a place of agreement
  • Set out a future course of action with a deadline
  • Validate the value of the person and express your commitment to help


Walking Out the Process

I have walked through this situation myself when someone I am leading is having difficulty.

  • Whenever I need to confront someone, I make sure the conversation is one-on-one.
  • I allow time for them to express their position and point of view.
  • I help them see the impact of not changing their behavior.
  • I let them express how they intend to do things differently and hold them to it.
  • Throughout the conversation, I am careful express hope that the person can change their behavior and meet expectations.

By following this process, I see change happen, even if it is slow in coming.

In the past, I didn’t always follow this process.  The result was defensiveness and stubborn refusal to change.  Today, the results are much more positive.

If I – an introvert who avoids conflict – can learn this skill, so can you!

100% honest.  100% respectful.


Take It Deeper

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive these monthly posts in your inbox, you can subscribe at Troy Communications Blog.

You Gotta Laugh a Little


Tonight I took a little time, deliberately choosing to spend time watching funny videos on YouTube.

I know I don’t take enough time to laugh, and this was a great respite from the steady schedule I set for myself.

Here are a few of the videos on my “favorites” playlist.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

How Animals Eat Their Food:

The Dance of the Cucumber:

Baby Groot!

Toss the Feathers:

Me too …


Yesterday’s flood of Facebook statuses stating “me too” was sobering.  I saw several men post that they were surprised by how many women (and men) posted this status.

What surprised me was the number of strong, confident, and mature women who posted.

I guess it never occurred to me that these women could have found themselves in such a vulnerable position, yet I myself was once as well.

If we can so quickly accept that so many women have had negative, in some cases devastating, experiences, why can’t we (the white community) believe our sisters and brothers of color that they experience prejudice and racism regularly?

I don’t get to interpret the experience of another.

A Painful Pruning …


What have you sacrificed in order to pursue your dream?

This week I let go of something good, something I not only enjoyed but also deeply believed was a valuable investment of my time.  This may be for a season, or it may not.  It’s uncertain to me just now, but as Robert Frost said in his famous poem:

“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

Why would I do such a thing?

John Maxwell describes my dilemma in both The 15 Laws of Growth in the Law of Trade-offs and in The 21 Laws of Leadership in the Law of Sacrifice.  Sometimes things that are good, noble, and worthy require time and energy that is needed for other pursuits.

Just as a farmer prunes back his vines, bushes, and trees to enable them to become more productive, sometimes we need to prune our own lives.

I have had some pretty big goals for the past three years, goals that have not yet been realized.  These goals are also good, noble, and worthy.  I have let go of something good today with the hope of reaping something bigger tomorrow.  I have decided that my goals and dreams are worth the sacrifice.

What are you still holding on to that is preventing you from moving forward?


We all need …


This evening I have spent a bit of time preparing a speech/ presentation I will deliver in just under three weeks.  The topic comes from John Maxwell’s book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, the same source as the course I am going to start teaching a week from today.

Tell me – what is it that prevents you from building stronger relationships with people at work?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be human nature to be completely absorbed with our own issues and not take any one else’s issues into consideration.  Yet we all still have a deep need to be heard and understood.

I’ve talked about The Five Core Concerns of Negotiation before, but I really think these are five powerful keys to understanding where other people are coming from.

  1. Appreciation – we all want those around us to see our strengths and value them.
  2. Autonomy – we all want to be free to make our own decisions without coercion.
  3. Affiliation – we all want to belong.
  4. Status – we all want to be respected.
  5. Role – we all want a part to play in the group.

If you want a stronger relationship with someone – whether you’ve just met them or known them for years upon years – give them more of these five things.

You might be saying to yourself, “I do appreciate them.”  When was the last time you verbally expressed that appreciation?

I have learned that we human beings have a short memory when it comes to the positive thoughts and feelings others express.  You have to make these five concerns explicit.  You have to verbalize it.

Who do you need to encourage today?  Why are you still reading?  Go talk to them now!

A Gentle Touch Goes a Long Way


Today I held midterm conferences with a few of my students who are struggling with the class.  Honestly, I wish the schedule allowed me to do conferences with all my students.  It is really the only time I get one-on-one with them and get to know them more personally, something I’ve found that students from “relationship-oriented” cultures need.

Two students are just a little low in their grades and are very likely to make a good turnaround.  The other two I’m more concerned about.

I always start the conferences asking the students how things are going and what has prevented them from performing well in the class.  These are international students, so I know cultural acclimation is likely an issue.  In the cases today, there are additional extenuating circumstances that have been interfering with their ability to keep up with their coursework.

Compassionate problem solving typically gives these students hope.  I directed both students to additional resources on campus to help them deal with the extenuating circumstances, though it is on them to follow through, and gave them a second chance on one of the bigger assignments they hadn’t yet completed.

It is in sympathizing with their situation that creates a connection.  It is such a small, small thing, yet it has such a big, big impact on the relationship.  I didn’t scold; I empathized and gave grace.  They won’t soon forget that.

I don’t know how the rest of the semester will unfold, if these two will be able to follow through and overcome their challenges, but I do know that I have done my part to encourage them.  That is the challenge I face every semester.  I have to be careful I am not more invested in their success than they are because that’s when I get frustrated and disappointed.

Sometimes I think students see teachers in an adversarial role and forget that we are committed to their learning and academic success.  In fact, I told one of the students point blank that I wanted him to pass the class.  I have seen this with all demographics I’ve taught, from elementary students through mid-career professionals.  Explicitly reminding them that we are on the same team usually resets attitudes and reenergizes the students.

It is not only students who forget that we are on the same team.  When interpersonal conflicts arise, all of us can lose sight of the importance of the relationship over the need to be “right” in the moment.

In which situations do you need to step back and reaffirm a relationship?