I’m one of the biggest fans of Seth Godin daily posts. This one especially hit home as a development actor.
It’s essential to find empathy for the people you hope to serve, to teach, to work with. Without it, you can’t find the place they’re stuck, you can’t help them move in the direction they seek to go.
But it’s entirely possible that your empathy will lead to a moment where you need to say ‘no’.
“I just bought a new car from you, drove it for a thousand miles, but now, I’ve broken my arm in a fall and I won’t be able to drive for a while. Can I please have a full refund?”
Of course, this is a selfish request. Your dealership can’t survive if buying a car is a slightly more complicated version of renting one for free.
Yes, you can empathize or even sympathize with this customer’s plight. A broken arm is bad enough, but the additional pain of seeing a car you can’t drive every day… that’s worse.
But empathy doesn’t require you to reach into your pocket because the customer has rewritten the terms of the deal and is undermining the business you’ve built to serve others.
Instead, it means that you can see his pain and that you’re completely okay with this person not buying from you again. That through the mist of pain and percocet, it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t have the reserves to be empathic to you, that he can’t see it through your eyes. And you probably can’t force him to.
So empathy leads to, “I hear you, I see you, and if you need to walk away, we’ll understand. We hope you’ll see it the way we do one day, but right now, I can’t solve your problem.”
This is key to the work we do in development. Although our work is driven by empathy, we are also requires to say no to partners, funders, beneficiaries and colleagues, without shutting down our empathy side.