Shoe switching. A practice in empathy, the key to great relationships

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seen better days

So when was the last time you slipped into a pair of shoes like these?

How comfortable would you be?

What might happen if you and your team were better at shoe switching?

Shoe switching.

It’s a mindset. Call it empathy, understanding, consideration.

Shoe switching is the mindset and the practice I engage in when I want to get out of my own skin and understand the ‘otherness’ of others. Its my way of creating a powerful connection with people I work with and care for.

The antidote to ignorance, indifference, misunderstanding, selfishness is caring, empathy, kindness and consideration. The way I practice empathy and understanding is to mentally switch shoes with whomever I’m engaging with. I ask myself, “what does it feel to be this person now, in this situation, what are his/her beliefs, understandings, fears, hopes?” To do this I have to slip out of my comfortable self centered thoughts and beliefs, my own shoes. I have to take off my rose colored glasses that view the world according to PAM. I have to hear and experience life from a new perspective. I have to do something that is slowly, beginning to become me; to feel, to see, to hear as the ‘other.’ Now, don’t get me wrong I’m still an undergraduate in this area. I have my moments of control and selfish, narcissism just like you. But I also have experienced moments where I’ve been so close to the soul of another, I’ve cried and laughed as them.

I have facilitated training and immersive experiences where leaders actually take their shoes off and are handed ‘new shoes.’ The new shoes might be the recent firing of their peer, or a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a child, the abuse of a parent, the disrespect of a supervisor or it may be something as incredible as winning the lotto, getting a promotion… Standing in their bare feet leaders practice feeling and seeing the world through the eyes of their peer, fully taking on their peer’s challenge and situation. They practice seeing, hearing, feeling and being some one else. Shoe switching, it’s a practice.

I just finished Daniel Goleman’s book Destructive Emotions. Science and research has proved that our brain and mind are two different things. We can change. Neuroplasticity has been proven. You and I can create a new mind through repeated mental imagery, meditation, daily repetitive thoughts and behaviors.

All of us can improve our ability to relate and engage with others. It’s as simple as practicing how it feels to be another, living in some one else’s shoes. My mom called it the golden rule, yours probably did too- huh? Treating others like we want to be treated is the key to successful interpersonal and professional relationships.

So for the rest of my days I’m committed to a practice of shoe switching. And don’t get me wrong I don’t have my PHd in empathy by any stretch of the imagination. I am however, aware that this practice offers me the greatest potential for transformative relationships and engagements.

Want to join me? Tell me your thoughts…and by all means kick off your comfortable way of looking at things, switch shoes with those you love, those you are called to serve. And tell me about it.

Pam Hoelzle

photo credit Uploaded on November 12, 2007 by mcandrea

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