“I’ve been working here three years and eight months and I never knew how smart he is and what a fantastic job he does.”
Its The West Wing, Series 4, Episode 2. Friends of my wife and I recently got us into this gripping political drama set in the West Wing of the White House. You don’t need to know the story or the characters for this to make sense, but its a great series and well worth checking out.
Josh Lyman is the Deputy Chief of Staff. He, along with a couple of other senior White House staffers, has been stranded on a trip and so Sam Seaborne, Deputy Communications Director has to step in to cover Josh’s role which is to be with the President in his various meetings throughout the day. The meetings come thick and fast, and the variety of issues he is expected to know everything about is just astounding. Sam, who is usually pretty sure of himself, is out of his depth.
This day in his colleague and very good friend’s shoes is a real wake-up call for Sam. He suddenly got a whole new respect for what his close workmate does and realised the pressures they work under and the daily challenges they had to overcome.
The analogy is simple. Empathy is not ‘what would I do if I were them?’, or even ‘what do I think about the job that they do?’
What does it actually feel like to be them, to sit where they sit, to face what they face and to overcome what they overcome? What are their challenges, their hopes, their goals? What is it that obstructs and frustrates them…and why?
Such contemplation could transform many a team…a workplace…a relationship…a family. Worth a try.