The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

Do You Feel Me Now?

Bad news, campers.

Our corporate overlords have discovered a new technique to drain the lifeblood from our flabby souls and destroy forever that thin sliver of purpose, joy and accomplishment to which we so pathetically cling.

They’re going to start caring about us.

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Or, more accurately, they’re going to start pretending they care about us, which, given their long history of not learning anything, ever, has a very low probability of succeeding.

But hold up a moment there, you say. Shouldn’t we at least be grateful that management is willing to pretend they care? Possibly, I say, but don’t you really hate it when the people who are trying to manipulate you are the same people you are trying to manipulate?

Like it or not, there is a movement in corporate America to show that they care. The particular skill our overlords are trying to master is empathy. Look around you — there are empathy workshops and empathy coaches. And if your particular workplace is not sufficiently empathetic to hire a super-expensive empathy outreach team, look at “Companies Try a New Strategy,” a recent Joann S. Lublin column in The Wall Street Journal.

“Corporate empathy may sound like an oxymoron,” Lublin writes, “but more businesses are empathizing the trait in developing managers and products.”

“About 20 percent of U.S. employers offer empathy training as part of management development,” adds Richard S. Wellins, a senior vice president of the human-resources consultancy, Development Dimensions International.

(Don’t you wish you worked for a company named Development Dimensions International? It doesn’t matter what they do. It would be worth signing up just to have that name on your business card.)

You would think that with so many big thinkers stacking Benjamins in the empathy biz, there has to be a metric that salespeople for these companies can use to pry consulting mega-bucks from employers. And there is — the Global Empathy Index.

To earn a place on the high end of Global Empathy Index — EGI to its friends — the consultant bees force the worker bees to do some mighty silly things.

Consider the Ford Motor Company. According to Lublin, “Newly hired engineering graduates must don an ’empathy belly’ shortly after they join design teams. The weighted garment makes a wearer feel like an expectant mother — including extra pounds, back pain and bladder pressure.”

I don’t know what kind wimpy engineers Ford hires, but you and me don’t need no empathy belly to feel extra pounds, back pain and bladder pressure. We got that going on 24/7 all on our own.

What makes the Ford empathy exercise even more ridiculous is that the engineers are forced to wear the empathy belly for a total of 30 minutes. Ask any expectant mother. She’ll tell you that the aches and pains of pregnancy last up to 60 minutes.

Outside of donning fake stomachs, what must managers do to learn empathy? Development Dimensions International provides a few “Tips for practicing empathy at work.”

Managers must learn to “pay careful attention to colleagues emotions, not just their words.” So if an employee looks like he is going to cry during a brutal tongue lashing from a manager, ignore it when he says, “Thank you for the helpful criticism. I’ll try to do better in the future,” and let the tongue-lashing continue until the employee is an eviscerated mass of human jelly quivering uncontrollably on the floor of the manager’s office. Now that’s empathy.

Managerial empaths also “use phrases like ‘I hear you’re feeling angry’ to recognize a person’s emotions without being judgmental.” This is definitely a warm and fuzzy response to an employee meltdown, though it would even better to sprinkle in a touch of reality, as in, “I hear you’re feeling angry. I don’t care that you’re angry and I’m not going to do anything to resolve your situation, because I basically don’t care, but I do hear it.”

My favorite empathy tip is to “use phrases that both acknowledge emotions and still hold employees accountable.”

Good advice. If an employee is so frustrated and angry that she explodes, a manager could try phrases like, “I feel your pain and I want to do everything I can to resolve the situation.” Or, “I really appreciate your honesty. Why not take two weeks off and when you come back, the issue will be resolved.”

An enlightened manager could use these phrases, but history tells us there’s are better phrase for these situations — “You’re fired.”

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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