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Not feeling listened to … this concept is being echoed around the walls of offices, homes and international platforms. It was further brought to the forefront of my mind at the recent Meaning Conference. I feel a worry within myself that in these strange times there is a danger of creating anger from misunderstanding because individual narratives aren’t being heard.

Listening with empathy

During the Meaning conference I listened to Jo Berry (the founder of Building Bridges for Peace) speak. She talked about the positivity she has gained from ‘the emotionally shattering trauma’ of her father being killed by an IRA terrorist, the terrorist whom she now classes a friend and who shares her passion and work to build peace. Jo made me believe the answer to the equation of ‘being listened to’ is right there in front of us and also strikingly simple: empathy.

Another person speaking at the conference – Clare Patey (Curator of the Empathy Museum) – showed us how she gives the gift of empathy by allowing individuals to literally step into another person’s shoes at the empathy museum.  After having the opportunity to do this myself I considered: might I even be able to appreciate my worst enemy’s story this way? Understand how they came to get from point A to B?

This seemed a very fruitful concept in today’s society where we are being increasingly spoon-fed a portrayal of those that wear very different shoes to us, rather than discovering through our own comprehension.

The role we can play at Here

I came away from the conference also believing that my own organisation – Here – could be a space that allows empathy to prevail. The workplace is undoubtedly a key place to start. As Hillary Jones (Ethics Director, Lush Cosmetics) pointed out at the conference: we should be less worried about the third of our salary that funds the confused politics of the western world and instead be more concerned about the two thirds that is spent directly on those organisations which do not align with our values and beliefs.

This opened the question in my mind of how do we become a listening organisation? One that not only evokes endogenous empathy, but also an organisation that captures the heart of those external to us, whilst continuing to have our purpose close at heart. If we truly hear the client and employee voice, an empathetic organisation can be formed.

This also made me consider practical questions: how on earth do you become an empathetic organisation in the round? How do we capture all of the narratives available to us? These big questions left me floundering, but also I found solace in a few certainties. There is power in the organisation, we have the ability to analyse our own assumptions, and we can all practice coming from a place of empathy.

The challenge and the opportunity of empathy

Taking on the responsibility of empathy can feel a bit of an uphill struggle. I feel lucky enough to work for a forward thinking organisation, but I can see directly the tension between our developing culture of empathy and the hard outcomes required of a day to day job. However this tension presents an awesome opportunity to ensure individuals feel listened to, to encourage everyone to put forward their narratives, and for everyone to try on each other’s shoes.

Becky Few works as a Patient Care Advisor in the Diabetes Care For You service.

tagged in Diabetes Care For You, purpose, what inspires us

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