This summer I have had a unique opportunity to spend three months working onsite for and with a client. There has been a lot of “new” for me during this past month: new desk, new (to me) computer, new coworkers, and new procedures. I expected all of these changes, but I did not expect the profound new level of empathy I have developed for all of my clients.
Going into this experience I thought I understood empathy and patience. I was wrong.
That first week of living, breathing, and working in the same environment as my client opened my eyes. I started really seeing the struggles and successes they face on a daily basis. I saw the hidden roadblocks, understood the seemingly complicated procedures, and got a better understanding of the inevitable internal politics. In short, I was finally able to feel how they felt.
Getting wrapped up in the day-to-day deliverables is so easy, focusing just on what you need to get your tasks done. It is so easy to blame the “other” when something goes wrong or a piece of information is not shared. It is so easy to forget there are people on the other side who have struggles, too, who are also looking to get their tasks done.
Practicing empathy and truly caring about the implicit struggles others face but may not enunciate can help everyone breathe a little easier. Empathy can help create the patient, kind space we all so desperately need in a healthy work relationship.
In my short time client side, I have learned a few tips that have helped me better understand and empathize with my client:
1. Talk to different departments
Talk to as many different people in as many different departments as you can. This will give you a better understanding of who does what in the grand scheme of things. You will know the exact people who can best address the situation and can also discover potential gaps in the communication or implementation process.
I know, I know. Think of the inbox count! However, on general emails or at the beginning of a relationship, including everyone on an email can foster better understanding and a feeling of inclusiveness. In an effort to streamline emails, members who have valuable input could be left out of conversations. Other times, streamlined emails engender a feeling of exclusion, which could hurt team morale.
3. Be patient
This is the golden rule here. Even if you think you have a good understanding of what is happening on the other side, you do not. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that you will never have a handle on no matter how long you work with them. A little patience goes a LONG way.
4. Be persistent
The flip side to a lot happening on the other side means that your initiatives might get lost. Kind, understanding persistence might be what is needed to get results (and to help your client retain some modicum of sanity!).
If these all seem like common sense, they are. But in the weeds, the down and dirty of getting stuff done, it can be all too easy to build resentment. When you are getting frustrated, remember to type a paragraph on the client’s keyboard before you act. A little empathy will go a long way to creating happy, successful relationships.