Everything get easier when you care about other people.
That’s it. That’s the secret.
There’s a lot of cliche-sounding advice in the world about how you should show compassion when you give feedback. And about how managing people is easier when you take an interest in others.
It’s not wrong. But it’s a lesson easier won through experience.
If you want to improve the way you interact with other people, you actually have to care about them. You can’t just pretend.
It’s extremely difficult to construct a thought experiment of “What would someone who cares about this person say?” It’s also easy to see through. Contrast that with actually caring about another human being. You don’t have to play games or wonder what someone would say. You’re already equipped to do it.
This may all sound pretty obvious. But it’s not in practice.
Compassion takes practice.
It takes practice because there are appropriate limits. You can’t just be compassionate. You also need to understand when and how to show restraint.
Kim Scott in her book Radical Candor describes this as ruinous empathy. It’s when you’re too nice to someone. Beyond the point of being honest or helpful. She discusses a better alternative, the namesake, radical candor. Which is about…
Another great book on the topic is Kristen Hadeed’s Permission to Screw Up. She institutes a great approach in her business call FBIs. FBI stands for Feeling, Behavior, and Impact. If you want to practice compassion and get your point across with acting like a complete asshole, communicate the specific behavior, how its makes you feel, and the impact is has on your business or relationship.
But like I said, there’s no better teacher than personal experience.
I think to my own experiences. In romantic relationships. In friendships. In professional relationships. As an employee. As a boss.
There were several times in my life when I was much younger where someone I thought was a friend achieved some small amount of success. It made me jealous. I asked myself why and realized we didn’t have much more than a surface level friendship. A little self honestly told me I kept this person around more as someone who motivated me. I didn’t care about the person though. That was a hard truth to swallow.
Contrast that with another friend. Someone who is more like a brother. He had a great job offer on the table and asked me advice. It was easy to give him honest advice, whether it was what he wanted to hear or not. When he landed the job, it was easy to be genuinely excited for him. I valued our friendship. I cared about his success.
I share both examples to show an important contrast.
In the first relationship, everything was transactional. I cared about what that person could offer me. Wrong or not, I didn’t care about the person. In the second, the basis of our friendship was not self-serving. It was about a mutual benefit and enjoyment of being friends. Compassion flowed naturally from it.
The same thing happens in professional relationships, too.
When you’re a manager, it’s easy to get caught up in making sure people “below you” are doing their jobs. But it’s also easy to dehumanize other people when you’re only weighing them by their inputs and outputs. But here’s a secret I’ve learned from observing both great and terrible managers: if you invest in people, they’ll consistently surprise you.
Yes. It sounds cliche. It sounds obvious. But it’s not always.
Sometimes it takes concentrated effort to get past the surface level details. It may mean intentionally being friendlier or trying to become more personable. It may mean you have to become vulnerable and open up.
It’s not always easy. But it’s worth it.