Each spring, I try offer a few words of wisdom on this blog to the students about to graduate from college, here at Bryant University and at other institutions as well. This year, I'd like to focus on a simple, yet challenging, recommendation: Learn to walk a mile in others' shoes.
What do I mean by that? The ability to empathize with others will serve you well in your personal and professional lives. Being able to walk a mile in the customer's shoes can help you design and deliver an exceptional customer experience. You can learn customers' pain points and frustrations. Developing the capability to empathize with co-workers and teammates can help you identify how their skills and abilities complement your own, as well as how your actions impact them positively or negatively. Walking a mile in your supervisor's shoes enables you to determine the challenges and pressures that he or she faces. You can learn how to help him or her achieve key objectives. Finally, the effort to empathize with subordinates enables you to understand the organizational barriers that prevent them from excelling at their jobs. Moreover, you will discover what makes them tick, what they are passionate about, and what they aspire to achieve in the months and years ahead.
Perhaps most importantly, walking a mile in others' shoes enables more constructive dialogue and debate. To paraphrase from the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, seek first to understand before trying to be understood. Try to discover where others are coming from on an issue, and seek to learn their motivations and interests. Seek to inquire, not simply to advocate, during meetings. Doing so will lead to more productive conversations, better decisions, and more effective teamwork.
While I've framed this advice in the context of teams and relationships at work, the same lessons apply to our personal relationships. Learn to walk a mile in your friends' and partners' shoes, and you will find yourself engaged in healthier interpersonal relationships. Others will appreciate your efforts to emphatize with them during trying situations. Good luck to everyone in your future endeavors! I wish you much happiness and success.