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  • Lauren Schlezinger

Empathy – I Know How You Feel

"They" say that leaning into empathy is vital to surviving this locked-down world. To me, this is a good thing, because I can't offer definitive solutions for how to cope with what's happening, but I can honestly say I relate to you if:

  • You do a slight heel click each morning when you put on your yoga pants and head to the home office.

  • You are up between the hours of 2-4 a.m. wondering what the future holds.

  • Your emotions spike wildly among feelings like gratitude, fear, love and anxiety.

  • You're developing a love/hate relationship with Zoom, and secretly long for the days when you could just talk to someone on the phone or meet in a crowded coffee shop.

Understanding how someone else feels and sharing how you feel create empathy, something we all appreciate. In difficult times it can be comforting to hear, “I know how you feel” from someone who, indeed, has a shared life experience. It’s the foundation of meaningful relationships in the workplace, mentorships, and personal friendships. And I can’t think of a single more unifying life experience than the great shelter-in-place of 2020.

How are you? Checking in to start a meeting.

In the time of COVID-19, leaders can—and should--boost their team’s productivity by intentionally cultivating empathy. People are in the midst of seismic shifts in foundational life structures—when/how they work, sleep, eat and play. Teams tap into empathy by sharing their experiences, expressing concern for each other and building solutions together.

Finding small ways to relate to one another can be a game changer during these uncertain and certainly stressful times. A great way to find these moments and pockets for developing empathy for others is at the start of a meeting – during the "check in." In busy days at the office when we are all running to get to the next thing, it might be easy to brush this part off as non-essential, but let me assure you that right now, this might be the only part of the meeting that counts.

So, here are some tips for making the most of your meeting's check in:

  • Offer the chance to reveal a dimension of life not typically seen or heard in the context of your work.

  • As a general guideline, people should be able to respond with information that is personal but not private. For example, a childhood memory is personal. A medical diagnosis is private.

  • For added style points, tie the check-in prompt to something related to the content of the meeting. For example, for a planning meeting, you might ask: Describe a time when your plan went sideways? What changed and how did you respond?

  • Recognize that the degree to which people are willing to share depends on 1) personality and 2) degree of trust within group. Using an anonymous polling app like works well for groups that do not yet have a high level of trust.

  • Make sure the question is inclusive and applies to anyone regardless of gender, race, religion, household makeup, marital/partnering status.

It is also important to remember that we are living in extraordinary times and it's ok to address that. These questions that relate to our current living conditions can help people take stock of where they and others are, and in some cases, bring much-needed humor or levity to the check in.

Shelter-in-Place Check-in Questions

  • What's an unexpected benefit from shelter-in-place?

  • What's one thing you've learned about yourself in the past week?

  • What's one piece of advice you have for the group?

  • What are three things you're feeling right now?

  • What's something that made you laugh this week?

  • Do you have bananas in the kitchen?

  • How many rolls of toilet paper are in your home?

  • What's a challenge we might be able to help with?

  • Have people share a photo of their work-from-home space.

  • What's a hope you have for the weekend?

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