Does empathy belong in the workplace?

Does empathy belong in the workplace?What’s your biggest challenge in feeling understood?

Not just thinking or believing that the other person understands what you’re saying.

Truly feeling understood.

Does that seem like a weird question?

I ask because for each of us as individuals, the deepest goal of communication is to feel (not just “be”) understood. This is more than intellectual understanding; it’s the experience of connection with another person that’s typically referred to as “empathy.”

We all have things we want to accomplish, and communication is an essential part of achieving those goals. We might want to get support for a project, brainstorm an idea, request help from a family member, ask for a promotion or a raise, and so on.

But behind that – indeed, all around that – is this desire to be felt, to experience empathy and connection, to be understood on a deep, nonverbal level.

The deepest goal of communication is to FEEL understood.Click To Tweet


There’s a myth that emotions don’t belong in the workplace, and empathy is certainly not a common emotion even in the most open organization. Nonetheless, imagine what we might be able to accomplish if leaders, executives, team members, and colleagues within an organization could actually reach an empathic level of understanding with each other.

Imagine, too, what might happen if marketing teams – whether in your organization or any other – had that depth of understanding about their customers.

I’d suggest imagining what might happen within government, between political parties, and between countries … but I’m not sure anyone’s imagination can go that far.  Still, what a different world it would be!

What’s your biggest challenge in reaching that level of understanding?

What can you do to offer this gift of understanding to others – even if they’re not at the top of your list of the most empathizable (to coin a word) people in the world?

gljudson Real communication

Are you … manipulative?

What do you think: are you manipulative?We are ALL manipulative

I wish there was an easy way to pause the display of this page for 60 seconds for you to think about your answer – and not just your answer, but the whole experience of reading the question and then answering.

What does the question feel like? Where does it land in your body? What feelings and emotions come up?

“Manipulative” is a powerful word packed with a lot of meaning – and a lot of those meanings aren’t especially positive. After all, everyone has had at least one unpleasant experience of being manipulated in some way, whether by a family member, a boss, a co-worker, or someone selling something.

So when you answered that question – are you manipulative? – was it an experience of “Ewww, of course not”?

Or “Well, maybe sometimes, but I try not to be”?

Here’s the thing: we are all manipulative.

It’s impossible NOT to be.

In my last post, I wrote about how words matter. In it, I told the story of a friend whose partner asked her to please “water the baby peas” rather than “water the garden.”

Why? Because my friend is a sucker for “baby” anything, so “baby peas” was much more likely to get the desired result.

Is that manipulative?

Of course.

Every word choice you make – whether you want it to be or not, whether you like it or not – is manipulative.

We all do a great many things without thinking about them very much. Choosing our words is one of those things.

If we took the time to understand the other person, and therefore had more empathy, and if because of that we chose our words more carefully and  intentionally … we would all be more likely to get what we want.

Without having to fight for it.

With much less resentment and frustration.

What kind of world would that be?

If we chose our words more intentionally, would we be more likely to get what we want? Click To Tweet

gljudson Real communication, Values

Words matter

Recently, a friend mentioned that her partner had written her a note before heading off on a business trip.

“Please remember to water the baby peas.”

My friend told me she’d have no problem remembering – and, more importantly, doing – this.

If the note had read, “Please remember to water the garden,” it might not have ended well for the seedlings. The words “the garden” have much less meaning for my friend than “baby peas,” and her partner knows this.

Words matter

Call someone “slender,” and you’ve offered a compliment.

Call them “skinny,” and they might feel offended.

Paying attention to the words you use, and how you use them, is more important than most people believe.

If you want to get your point across; if you want to achieve your goals; if, bluntly, you want to get what you want – words matter. A lot.

If you want to get what you want - the words you choose matter. A lot.Click To Tweet

gljudson Real communication, Success

An alternative to “safe space”

A very safe space“This is a safe space.”

We hear that a lot in coaching, counseling, consulting, and even in business meetings.

Groups on Facebook and on LinkedIn are touted as “safe space” where we can feel comfortable in the company of like-minded people: no one will push our buttons. Educational institutions are under pressure to create “safe space” where students and teachers are caring and careful not to bump into anyone’s triggers. Brainstorming meetings are described as “safe space” where attendees are reassured that they won’t be subjected to criticism or challenge.

It’s comforting.

It’s also comforting to be wrapped in a blanket and rocked to sleep.

And sometimes comfort is exactly what we need.

But in a “safe space” there’s inherently – indeed, intentionally – no challenge.

Instead, people censor themselves to avoid offending someone or hurting their feelings.

And sadly, some people choose to project their feelings and experiences onto others instead of taking ownership of their reactions, hot-buttons, and triggers.

I propose an alternative: brave space.

Because without challenge, without the freedom to be who we are and to have our own opinions and experiences, we lose creativity. We lose the inspirational, innovative fire that comes when people’s rough edges rub up against each other and cast sparks.

In brave space we can freely, yet considerately, share our thoughts and describe our experience.

In brave space we have the option to explore ourselves and the world around us. We can have passionate, constructive debate and disagreement, broaden our horizons, see new perspectives, and maybe even create ideas and solutions that are far better than any of us could develop within the careful confines of “safe space.”

Let me be very clear.

There is a time and place for very safe space. Anyone in treatment for trauma, or seeking professional help with emotional or psychological distress, must have safe space in which to process and understand their experience.

And there is no excuse, in any space, for ad hominem attacks – attacks on who someone is, on their personality, values, ethics, judgment, and so forth. The only valid subjects for debate are the ideas themselves, the facts themselves, and the specific topic.

We all need both

I propose that we all need both safe space … and brave space. We all need to feel the comfort of safe space, and we all need, whether we like it or not, the challenge of brave space.

Especially in today’s polarizing, changing, upheaving, emotional world.

gljudson Conflict, Real communication

Why problems don’t go away

Why problems don't go awayWhy don’t problems go away?

One simple reason.

You don’t do anything.

You don’t take action.

You just complain about it.

“I can’t believe we’ve had that old lawn mower sitting in the garage all these years.”

“Why is that lawn mower is still sitting in the garage?”

“That lawn mower doesn’t work.”

“Ouch! I just tripped over that stupid lawn mower!”

(Insert your problem of choice for the broken-down lawn mower.)

I understand that some things are frustrating. And I get that some things can’t be changed. Other people, for instance.

But most things can be changed.

Including – guess what? – other people.

Because if you change your behavior with them, their behavior will change in response.

So stop complaining and take action.

Because that cycle of complaint is like poking a sore tooth. It hurts. It drains your energy. Energy that could be put to much more enjoyable, productive, and meaningful endeavors.

Take action. It’s so much more fun than complaining.

(photo credit: © iqoncept via

gljudson Action

Me, interviewed: it’s all about strategy!

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by my colleague and friend Nina Woodard, SPHR, GPHR, MBA, on the San Diego HR Insights Hour talk show in mid-December 2016.

Topic: embracing change and planning for success in the upcoming year. (So yeah, it’s relevant no matter what the date is when you’re reading this!)

It was a fun conversation – and it’s jam-packed with information, ideas, and practical action steps!

Click here to listen.

gljudson Strategy

Beware of piranha minnows!

Beware of piranha minnowsYou know what piranha minnows are.

They’re those little unfinished tasks that nibble voraciously at your time and energy.

They swim through your dreams, clog up your concentration, and chomp on your sense of achievement. As if that weren’t enough, they’ll even chow down on your feelings of self-worth.

No matter how many times you repeat the old saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff,” those piranha minnows keep right on nibbling.

And let’s be honest: they’re a source of real frustration and exhaustion.

You can run up a ridiculously high water bill from one little leaky faucet. And you can run down your energy just as wildly – all because of those pesky little piranha minnows.

Here’s what to do about them.

  1. Admit they exist. You can’t do anything until you acknowledge how they’ve been feeding on you.
  2. Write them down. Seriously. When you’re carrying them around in your head, you can’t get creative about dealing with them. (Have I given you visions of piranha zombies dining happily on your brains? Good, and you’re welcome.)
  3. Prioritize. What absolutely must get done? What can you say “no” to doing? (If none of them are a “no,” you’re fooling yourself – or torturing yourself – or both.) Which ones need to be done but not immediately?
  4. Delegate. And if you think you can’t delegate any of them, you’re still torturing yourself. There’s got to be at least one item, whether on the “must” or the “sometime” list, that you can hand off.
  5. Get started. Piranha minnow tasks seldom take as long as we fear they will – and they can often be slotted in between bigger tasks and in those few minutes before a meeting begins.

Piranha minnows are energy leaks. Just like that dripping faucet, your energy, motivation, and self-esteem drain out, drip by drip, nibble by nibble, until you’re exhausted and overwhelmed. Left uncontrolled, they breed: where once you had just two or three, you’ll suddenly discover entire schools of the finned fiends.

On the other hand, once you’ve dealt with them you’ll be amazed at the energy you’ll reclaim, the pride you’ll feel, and the spring that returns to your step!

gljudson Action

Got strategy? (And why you need one)

Got Strategy?When I talk about strategic planning with small business owners and sole proprietors – and even, frankly, with some medium-sized organizations’ leaders – I often see puzzled expressions on their faces.

Isn’t “strategy” for big businesses, global corporations, large non-profits, the government, and the military?

Well, yes.

And it’s for you, too.

Small business or non-profit, solopreneur, medium-sized business, and – yes – even individuals.

That is, if you want intentional direction in your business and your life, versus wandering in whatever direction life’s forces push you.

Don’t misunderstand me: wandering is an option, if it’s what you want. It’s what I did for many years, throughout my corporate career and even into self-employment (that was totally a wander, though I’m very glad it happened). It’s how most people start out.

But wandering – even if you think you’re heading toward a specific goal – tends to be frustrating and unfulfilling in the long run. Goals by themselves are not strategy.

Defining an annual strategic plan is hard work, especially the first time you do it. And it keeps feeling at least somewhat challenging, even after you’ve done it for years. Yet it’s also exciting and inspiring.

Strategic planning brings life and vitality into your business and your life. It reminds you of what you love, why you do what you do, what you’ve been missing – and what you don’t want to be doing, and why.

Strategic planning pushes you to think about all aspects of your work and your life, and shows you options for fitting those puzzle pieces together in rewarding, meaningful, profitable ways that just don’t happen when you wander.

(By the way you get to define “rewarding, meaningful, and profitable” however you want. It’s your strategy.)

Strategic planning also gives you a North Star for decision-making. Does it fit into your strategic plan? Yes – do it. No – think about it. (You can still choose to do it, but now it’s a conscious choice to take a particular step.)

If you’re one of many who have told me (or thought privately) that they don’t know how to “do” strategy, or they haven’t got a strategic mind-set, please know that strategic thinking is a skill, not a talent. And that means, like any skill, you can learn.

It’s worth learning.

There are many books, blogs, and other resources out there.

And there will be another book soon – the one I’m writing. It will not surprise you that my approach is a bit different from most others!

That said, I’ll point you to one very simple approach, from someone whose advice I trust on many levels: Theresa Reed at The Tarot Lady. Her post “3 ways to make time for your dreams & priorities” is a simple, practical, and very useful starting point.

Good luck getting started with your plan for next year. And if you have questions or comments, by all means, send them my way!

gljudson Strategy

Are they values if we don’t follow them?

What are your core values?A few posts ago, I wrote, “Is a value really a value if one doesn’t always practice it?”

In hindsight, I can’t believe I asked such a naive question.

We’re humans. And therefore, we’re fallible. So of course we’re going to fail to live up to our values some of the time.

This includes organizations as well as individuals. While I don’t agree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that corporations have “personhood” and can make donations as such, organizations are nonetheless made up of people, and thus are fallible.

Of course, any organization’s leadership should include checks and balances that prevent egregious mis-steps and flagrantly illegal actions. (I say “should” instead of “must” because we know, obviously, that this is not always the case.)

However – and this is the important point here – if we, individuals and organizations alike, don’t have a clear understanding of our values, we cannot hope to adhere to them. Those organizations and individuals that have clearly-defined, lived values (as opposed to nice-to-have claimed values) are those that succeed.

If I asked whether you have values, I’m sure you’d say, “Of course!” But have you written them down? And have you reached an understanding with yourself as to which value takes precedence when (not if) there’s a conflict between them?

Do you use your values to guide your life?

These questions are just as important for us as individuals as they are for organizations.

Make no mistake, it’s not always easy to live your values, either as a person or as an organization.

And it makes all the difference between just getting by – and having a lasting positive impact on the world.

gljudson Leadership, Values

Stop doing that!

Stop doing thatYou don’t need to do all the things you’re doing.

A recent Harvard Business Review article cites the results of a survey conducted with executives, asking them to estimate the cost to their organization, in dollars per day, of wasted time due to what they called “people issues.”

The average dollar amounts ranged from a low of about $4,200 to a staggering high of almost $9,000.

Per day, per time-wasting task. Not the sum for all the organizations, but for each individual organization, for each separate thing they could have stopped doing – or helped their teams stop doing – in one single business day.

Avoiding conflict, engaging in busy-work, wasting time in meetings, avoiding decisions, creating overly complex solutions to problems … you get the idea.

These time- and energy-wasters are keeping you from what you really want.

And it’s clear from the survey that it’s not just the specific tasks on your to-do list; it’s habitual patterns of behavior.

These are things we can – you can – choose to stop doing.

You’ve probably got more than a few personal favorites.

One client told me that he was going to stop wasting time and energy getting frustrated when it took longer to learn something than he thought it “should” take.

Another said she would stop spending valuable time trying to gain 100% consensus and making sure everyone liked her. It was time for her to step up and be the leader she knows herself to be.

Will it be easy? Probably not; changing a habit is typically (but not always) challenging.

As always, the first step is to become aware.

The second step is to ask yourself a new question each morning. Not just What will I accomplish today?…but also What will I stop doing today?

gljudson Meaningful change