A relative of mine who is a teacher went all year without hearing any affirmation from her boss. At the end of the year she asked her supervisor if she had done anything positive. “Sure, lots,” was the response. Why did the boss withhold this information all year?
Last week I really messed up an opportunity to listen. My teenage daughter was asking me and my wife for ideas on places to go for a special date night with her boyfriend. I was working on my computer and heard her request in my periphery so I popped off a few of my half-baked ideas on novel locations. She was not impressed and let me know it. I made a snarky comment about how she shouldn’t have asked me if she didn’t want my ideas, and went back to my work.
An hour later I was in bed and I realized I had missed an opportunity to listen. My daughter wasn’t asking for ideas, she was sending out feelers to see if anyone cared about what mattered to her.
Never underestimate the power of inhibitions. How many times in your life have you been told “Don’t,” “You shouldn’t,” or “You can’t?” Did it start early in your life with a parent, caregiver, teacher, or coach? Do you remember how you felt? Did you internalize these messages? How much have those limitations inhibited you throughout your life?
I’m genuinely sorry this happened to you. It’s unfortunate that people who cared about you and wanted to protect you said these things. This is tragic.
Because you were meant to thrive. And fly. And make a ruckus.
My dad often said, “The older I get the smarter my parents get.” I didn’t get it until I got older and started appreciating the lessons and values I learned from him. I quote him often in my writing and training, and share many stories of his wisdom in my professional work. I tell most of his best jokes, over and over until my kids roll their eyes.
Empathy fatigue is a phrase coined by Mark Stebnicki, a professor in the Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation at East Carolina University. He explains that, “empathy fatigue results from a state of psychological, emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and occupational exhaustion that occurs as the counselors’ own wounds are continually revisited by their clients’ life stories of chronic illness, disability, trauma, grief and loss.”
Empathy fatigue is especially common in high-touch professions where empathy, care, concern, and emotional support are job duties. Although first recognized in the counseling field, empathy fatigue is gaining more recognition in corporate settings, especially in companies promoting a customer-centric and people-focused culture.
Losing our selves. Losing our soul.
Symptoms of Empathy fatigue are described in Lynne Shallcross’ article, “Who’s taking care of Superman.”
- Feelings of powerlessness or helplessness
- Loss of meaning, purpose and hope
- Lowered concentration
- Somatic complaints
- Low morale or motivation
How did we get here?
Empathy fatigue is caused by the relentless pursuit to serve the customer coupled with a distorted understanding of compassion.
On the way to perfecting our customer-first strategy we’ve forgotten that the customer is an agent in the equation. We have accepted that we are responsible for making everything better, so we listen more, care more, empathize more, and suffer more.; so that they will have a pleasant experience, stay engaged, and buy more.
Most people believe that compassion is synonymous with empathy, altruism and kindness. That’s wrong.
How do we get out?
The obvious answer is self-care. It’s a good step, but it’s not the full solution. The solution is to practice compassion in its fullest sense. Compassion means “to struggle with,” not “to struggle instead of.” Here’s how compassion can help you solve empathy fatigue.
Keep caring and giving
Don’t shut down your heart. People are hard-wired to care about each other. And, don’t forget to also protect your heart. Bleeding-hearts don’t last very long.
Engage others in the process
Stop solving problems for people. Get them involved to take ownership over the solution. Customers are much more loyal and engaged when they take an active role in the solution. When you are doing all the emotional (and physical) work, you are undermining their capability and dignity and creating dependence.
Set and enforce boundaries
Protect your soul by knowing your boundaries and investing in you. Without it, your tank will always be on empty. What keeps you healthy and balanced? Do it. What gives you joy? Do it. Recognize when saying “yes” means you are saying no to what keeps you healthy. You are worth as much as the person you are trying to help. When you are fatigued you aren’t helpful.
Solving empathy fatigue requires difficult conversations with yourself and with others. It’s not easy, and we have a solution.
Start your journey towards more energy and better relationships today with The Compassion Mindset course, offered regularly in a two-hour webinar format.
Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2019
Compassion is much more than being stirred by another’s humanity and extending a helping hand. Here are a few ways to expand your experience of compassion.
Things were going so good leading up to Christmas. Then, during the week between Christmas and New Years I got several pieces of bad news, and had one heck of a time transferring data between an old and new computer. Wasted most of a day! By the way, the Apple Migration Assistant didn’t make my life any easier this time! Together, these events really killed the buzz I had going. I found myself plummet from being on top of the world to complaining “Why is this happening to me!?” in a matter of hours.
This post is the third in my series, New Year, New Default Settings, where I examine the defaults in our life that keep us from experiencing greater joy, purpose, and productivity. The third default I have re-set this year is,
This is the second part in my series called New Year, New Default Settings. In my previous post I shared my new year’s decision to reset some of my default settings that were holding me back. The first one was from “I’m the only one” to “I’m not alone.”
The second default I am resetting is,
Who is responsible? vs. We are in this together
Over the holidays I upgraded my MacBook to the latest OS. We also just purchased several new computers for our company because our trusty old Macs were so old that they couldn’t install the new OS. Part of upgrading to a new OS is to review and adjust the default settings. I was surprised to discover how many defaults had been set years ago and have never been questioned or updated since. They influence what I see and how I experience the world, automatically without me knowing it.
This year, instead of making new year’s resolutions that I will probably abandon by Valentine’s day, I am examining some of my own default settings. I’ve already discovered three default settings that are holding me back from greater happiness, purpose, fulfillment, relationships, and success. I’ll share the first one in this post, the other two in successive posts.
I’ve always had friends at work. In fact, some of my best friends I met at work. All of my current co-workers are friends. Having a friend at work isn’t just a nice perk, it’s a main ingredient for success. Friends at work,
- Give you something to look forward to each day.
- Provide a listening ear when things aren’t going well.
- Help hold you accountable.
- Look out for your best interests.
- Show you the ropes.
- Encourage you to be your best.
- Hold up a mirror when others won’t.
- Tell you the truth.
- Check in on you when you don’t show up.
- Want you to be happy.
- Introduce you to more friends.
- Talk shop with you outside of work.
Do you have a friend at work? How does it help in your success? Will you share your story in the comments?
Copyright Next Element Consulting, LLC 2018