Compassion and Empathy:

Can you really walk in someone’s shoes if you haven’t?

Compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

In developing ‘best places to work’ cultures, we are often looking for people to have compassion and empathy for others while still upholding certain policies and performance standards. We coach leaders to build relationships with their reports. We encourage leaders to be understanding when someone has personal issues that they are dealing with while still having to pay attention to their productivity and overall performance. It certainly is challenging at times to balance all of that. What I have come to discover is the true challenge of understanding what someone is dealing with if you haven’t experienced it. Overcoming this challenge takes listening at a level that often we don’t take time for and it also requires the person struggling to be willing to share their vantage point.

I have been faced with a personal situation that has caused me to see things from a new perspective.

For the two months, I have been temporarily “disabled” or less mobile than I generally am. I have two fractured bones in my knee and my arm. This has caused my appreciation to grow for what some deal with every day of their life. The amount of time and energy required to think through accomplishing basic tasks that many of us take for granted is exorbitant for those with a handicap. We say that awareness is the first step and I believe in most cases that is true.

Some things I have become more aware of:

  • Bathrooms where often the “handicapped” stall is the farthest away.
  • Parking spaces for “handicapped” where there is no ramp to go up by the driver side door and in some cases not at all.
  • There are things that at times just can’t be done at all or by yourself when you are disabled.
  • Some people are oblivious to another human needing help or just don’t care while others go out of their way to assist.


What will I do with my new awareness and perspective? I am not totally sure. I know that I will be much more sympathetic to what others are dealing with that are disabled in any way.  I’m thankful to lead a very active lifestyle, but I am also grateful for the learning and reflection this situation has spurred. I’m also tremendously thankful for those who have assisted throughout this process.

We should continue to encourage people in the workplace to be more understanding and empathetic to others knowing that it really does take listening at a deep level to understand someone’s vantage point; I think we can all probably do better at times.

I will never forget what a friend once said…” Walk in a way that doesn’t leave footprints on others’ hearts”…