The Importance of Empathy

NOV 15, 2016 • Written by Nickie McCabe

Over the past year, we’ve written a lot about empathy on this blog. We’ve discussed empathy-driven development, the empathy spectrum, and the fact that empathy is a skill. And like any skill, it can be learned and takes practice to build. But perhaps one of the most important posts was actually an update to an existing one.

The Power of Words

In July, our CEO, Andrea, wrote about her decision to update our core value “Think of Others” to “Act with Empathy”. At first glance, this might appear to be a subtle change. But, in reality, as we grow and solidify our company culture, we have felt the impact of this change throughout the organization.

At any company, core values are – or at least should be – the backbone of the culture. Here, at Corgibytes, every member on the team aims to not only keep these values in mind when making daily decisions, but also act on those words.

The Power of Acting on Words

I wasn’t surprised then, when, last Wednesday morning, shortly after waking up, I received a text message from Andrea: “I totally get it if you need to take the day off, Nickie.” After a long and contentious campaign, the U.S. presidential election was over. Elections are always a highly-emotional time. Everyone acts according to their values and points of views, and, unfortunately, quite often, passionate debates turn into heated arguments where harsh words are exchanged. Win or lose, in the aftermath, families, friends and neighbors struggle to find a way to move forward. On a personal note, I needed to grieve, and Andrea knew that.

When I checked into Slack in the morning, Andrea had already reached out to everyone. She was also waiting in a virtual videoconference room, in case anyone wanted to talk. One of the most empathic responses to someone who is grieving or struggling is to create a safe space for the person to talk about their experience and genuinely listen. Andrea was doing just that. She had made it clear that no matter which candidate we had chosen to vote for, we were all welcomed to talk if we needed to. Open mind. Open heart. No judgements.

The Power of Adding Empathy

At my previous job, when projects weren’t going well, my colleagues and I used to semi-seriously joke that “there’s no crying in consulting.” And yet, there is.

Yes, we are consultants and developers. But, first and foremost, we are human beings. Parents die unexpectedly. Marriages fall apart. Loved ones are diagnosed with cancer. Couples suffer miscarriages. Children struggle in school.

I once returned from a week-long vacation to learn that my husband’s beloved dog had died suddenly while we were gone. When I went to work that Monday, my puffy eyes made it look like I’d spent my holiday partying all night.

To have a company culture that ignores the world outside of the office walls, physical or not, is unrealistic. Life happens. And understanding the context in which your colleagues are working is vital. Creating a culture where empathy and vulnerability are encouraged and rewarded can help ensure that when team members are facing personal struggles, they’re supported appropriately and able to recover and become productive again.

Reflecting on the past week, I’m still feeling a mix of strong emotions. But I think more than anything, I’m grateful to work for a company that sees its employees as humans first, values empathy, and recruits new team members who feel similarly. In personally difficult times, these things make all the difference.