Empathy seems to be a buzz word in my life right now. It may just be the whole trying to be a therapist thing that makes me keenly aware of the word, but it seems to be everywhere.
As my lack of blogging reflects, lately I’ve been busy. Probably too busy. I don’t feel that busy. After all, I’m not juggling as many things as years past, but I think even just working more than full-time is enough to squeeze away any extra space in my ever-changing schedule. Fast. The problem is busyness seems to be what destroys empathy the fastest. I’ve seen that in my own life, but I also see it in the lives of others. I could give countless examples of this busyness-over-empathy phenomenon, but the example that comes up six days a week for me is in the drive-thru.
When working at a fast food restaurant (or as Chick-fil-A describes themselves, “a quick service restaurant”), you see the worst of rushed people. One of my co-workers often quotes the saying “a lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part,” but laughs and says “unless you work here!” Her sarcastic remark about sums up our day-to-day experience with catering orders, but in the rush of each order at the drive-thru we see other mini-emergencies hundreds of times a day. Suddenly, workers go from being people to robots. Despite our best attempts at connecting with guests, our guests often seem to forget they are interacting with people. (In their defense, we do get them when they’re hangry. I, too, am not my best right before I eat.) Though so many of our guests are kind, caring people even in their lunch emergencies, the rushed guests tend to taint each shift. Talking on the phone during a transaction is one of my personal pet peeves. Drive-thru phone talkers are always distracted, but somehow their distracted mistakes always manage to be our fault. Their self-focus and lack of listening tends to squelch their ability to really engage. After rushing through a transaction with a team member, the drive-thru phone talkers often apologize to the person on the other end of the phone (the human that means something to them) and whiz past our workers (who also happen to be human) without a second thought. This behavior displays so well our busyness-over-empathy society, and our choice to multitask over connect.
Brené Brown describes this so well in a blog post, ironically also written about the same quick service restaurant. I’ve read a lot of her research, so I’m sure much of what I write on this topic is influenced by her work (whether I realize it or not)…and she writes a lot better than I do!
Our capacity to empathize is so often limited by our inability to listen. Really listen. Do you ever get tired of listening? I do and I’m supposed to making a career out of listening. It gets old hearing the same thing over and over again. Close friends would tell you that I often become an advice-giver or a fixer instead of a true listener when I’ve heard the same problem over and over again. The problem with that (other than that makes for a terrible therapist) is that it lacks empathy. As a Christian, I would even assert that it lacks love (see 1 Corinthians 13).
To empathize better, I need to listen better to my friends. However, I think there are also some smaller steps I need to take. When the hangry guest comes through the drive-thru, I may need to try to read between the lines of their mini-emergency. Chick-fil-A also has a powerful training video that displays empathy well, Every Life Has a Story. Knowing that every life does have a story—from whatever perspective—I want to hear those stories and love the people behind them better.
Where can you listen, empathize, and connect better?
For me, questions that also help me assess this better are:
When/where do I need to multitask less?
When is my own schedule getting in the way of my willingness to listen, empathize, and connect?
Who have I interacted with transactionally today?
When did I treat someone (anyone) as less than human today?
Who can I listen to better?