Empathy and Change

It was my daughters 16th birthday and I had spent well over a year planning a surf trip for us to Portugal. I pictured us surfing off into the sunset, eating amazing food, and bonding without inhibitions. The ultimate mother daughter experience. My mother passed away when I was 16 therefore this milestone birthday was incredibly significant to me. I needed this trip to matter as she will soon be leaving for college, I needed her to pack these memories with her to take on her life’s journey.

However when we got there, and throughout the trip, I quickly realized my expectations of the time and hers were greatly misaligned. As a person who prides themselves on being empathetic and clued in to other people I was so absorbed in the overall experience I had forgotten the most important thing about the journey, I had forgotten about her. By focusing on creating the “perfect” experience I had forgotten about her actual experience.

It was during this time and after that became pivotal for me to reflect on some of the issues that people face in times of change and ask myself, how could I do better?

We often talk about hill charts in project management and organizational change, which can be very dry. While this articulates part of the journey mostly the part we focus on is the successful end, the fist bumping and high-fives.

When we have gone through the journey it’s easy to forget about the full experience, the entire emotional journey. How during times of change for individuals, teams, organizations – the emotions, the feels, take over and anxiety looms large. We don’t empathize enough with the experience of the people going through the change. That only going through the journey together can you reach a shared understanding.

As I think about my evolving and changing relationship with my daughter and as I think about the process of change that we are undergoing at Automattic I reflect on this quote by Stephen Covey:

Seek first to understand, then be understood.

How so often we want to be understood before we understand. Myself understanding now that the middle is messy and that by asking myself how can I do better, is a journey in and of itself.

By sntdo

sntdo is short for Sentido, Spanish for "Sense."

All things sense-making / True Yorker / kid wrangler / Head of Design Operations @InVision / @automattic @frogdesign @hotstudio alumn / Design Diplomat / Hostage Negotiator / Boricua


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