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Empathy is defined as identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives. If we are going to be effective in hav­ing our team work well together, it is important that each and every one of us have empathy for one another. This is what I loosely call "growing teamwork." We cultivate this skill of empathy by practicing the art of looking at things from another person's point of view.

But some managers say that the only thing that is important is to see the situation from the company point of view, that is to say, from the boss's viewpoint, who knows all and will say who will do what, when, and how. This is the classic Taylor approach to doing work where the boss thinks and all the other people just work.

In today's tough marketplace it is important to utilize all the skills of all the people. Things are getting so complex and moving so fast that no one person can keep up with the fast pace that business must move today. All of us are smarter that each of us. Every person on our team comes to the task with different skills, experiences, and back­ground. It is important that we recognize all these diverse skills and put them to good use.

Some have said that a person is a person—all people are alike. Com­panies that do a good job in today's fast-moving economy will invari­ably engage all their people and put all of their diverse talents to work. A company I know of in rural Arkansas told me that none of their workers had any skills beyond just running the machines. However, one person in the direct labor ranks was the second-highest ranking Boy Scout volunteer leader in the state. Here was an employee who could, on the weekend, plan and lead Boy Scouts on trips. Not only that, he also had skills to motivate teenage boys to do good and be model citizens. He had a wealth of skills that the company did not utilize in any way until they started growing teamwork.

You can develop that skill of empathy by paying attention to the people. Focus on each individual and their background, culture, edu­cation, and skills.

What skills does each person bring to the task that is entirely differ­ent from everyone else? Search out information about each person and treat them as a valuable individual. As one person said to me, "It is important to consider each person as the apple of my eye."


So, how do we consider each and every person and become aware of their unique ability to contribute? The answer is to listen to what the people have to say. I do not mean just to listen to the words, but rather to open up and practice the skill, perhaps the art, of listening. We must pay close attention to not only the words but also the meaning behind the words.

In order to have communication, it is necessary to have both a sender and a receiver. The theory of communication tells us that the goal is to establish understanding between these two parities. The sender is the person who has a wish that needs to be communicated to the receiver. There are several ways the sender may choose to try to convey under­standing to the receiver including demonstrating, writing, and speak­ing. We are going to look at the art of speaking.

The English language is a wonderful tool of communication. How­ever, there are many words and phrases we use every day that do not have very specific meanings. For example, what do we mean by the words hurry, quick, quality, and a host of other words that are open to lots of interpretation?

You see, each person speaks through a filter of their own back­ground, culture, and experiences. I know of an aircraft company where "quick delivery" means two years. On the other hand I know of a vinyl siding company where "quick" means manufacture and ship within 24 hours.

As a matter of interest, here are several written statements that try to convey one idea, but that in fact create quite a different thought in the mind of the receiver:

• I had been driving my car for 40 years when 1 fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.
• Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree that I do not have.
• That guy was all over the road; I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.
• The pedestrian had no idea which way to go so I ran over him.

These all create a smile on our face, but do not communicate effec­tively on a police traffic accident report.

To have effective communication we need to have some sort of feedback loop that we use to communicate back and forth between the sender and the receiver. Please see figure 3. If our goal is understanding, and I think it is when working on a team, then we must have this effective communication. The receiver can gain understanding by re­peating back to the sender what she heard. She could also ask the sender to elaborate on what he meant to say and repeat the thought another way. She could also say such phrases as, "Did I hear you to say...", "Do you mean...", or "Am I to understand... ."As you can tell, all these ideas are grouped under the heading of a feedback loop where the sender and the receiver have an ongoing dialogue.

Good communication is a skill that all of us must work hard to cultivate. All too often, particularly in industry and business, a non-listener manager will in fact finish a sentence for the sender. This prac­tice not only cuts off effective communication, but will also send the message to a team that the members' opinions do not count.

What we really want to do when growing teamwork is to pool to­gether all the talents and information from our team. This requires that each of us on the team develop excellent listening skills. Then we can take the collective skills and effort of all the people to move toward the vision of the future that our team will be trying to achieve.

To Be Continued


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