Everyone is drowning in requests at work.
Answer this question. Write this report. Build this slide deck. Send this email.
It’s frustrating. Urgent tasks hit us every day. Sometimes, in the rush, it’s hard to separate the important from the unimportant.
If you want to become an “A” player at work, the star among stars…work on your empathy. As you come out of your cocoon, and see that everyone is fighting the same battles you are, you’ll become helpful in important new ways.
Let’s take two scenarios.
Scenario one is where you stay in your cocoon. You’re hit with requests. You get angry, because everyone else thinks their own request is the most important one you’ve received.
They don’t understand your priorities. They don’t understand the directions you’ve received from your boss. You work with a bunch of selfish people that couldn’t care less about the conflicting demands you’re balancing.
Scenario two is where you let empathy shine a light on the struggles of your colleagues. You realize they face the same pressures you face. They’re getting a thousand different requests from a thousand different stakeholders.
At first glance, all the requests seem important. Most people won’t take the time to hit pause, and separate the important from the unimportant. So your colleagues are racing to put out fire after fire, not knowing which ones are the most dangerous, or which ones will put themselves out.
How does scenario two help you become an “A” player? Empathy gives you a greater concern for the well-being of others. This concern will drive you to help your colleagues in important ways. Here are three examples:
- You can help your colleagues become more efficient. Empathy will drive you to help others. In this case, in your work environment, you teach people around you how to separate the important from the unimportant. You might be able to help them automate tasks that they perform manually today. You can help them delegate their work to internal support teams.
- You can help your colleagues put out their fires. With empathy, you’ll know your colleagues are drowning in requests. While you don’t have the bandwidth to permanently take on their work, you can help them edit a report they need to send out this afternoon. Or you can help them find a template for the slide deck that’s due in the morning. A little bit of help in a high-pressure situation earns you a lot of appreciation.
- You can build relationships by being a compassionate listener. We all have problems. We all face situations that stress us out. Sometimes, all we want is someone to listen and sympathize with us. With empathy, you’ll better understand the value of being a compassionate listener. You don’t have to take on new tasks, or coach people through their problems. Just listen to them. Give them your attention. You’ll become a more valuable teammate as a result. (See this post at Farnam Street about listening.)
It’s easy to have tunnel vision, to tell ourselves the story that everyone is out to get us. Reality is that everyone feels that way. Everyone is getting screwed. Everyone is misunderstood.
Break that cycle. Don’t play the victim. Help other people, either by taking on new tasks or simply listening to them.
Becoming an “A” player is so much more than doing high quality work. There are plenty of smart people working at your company. But there are surprisingly few that practice empathy. Be one of these few, and your value will skyrocket.