How Did That Feel?

Mary Carol arrived at the hospital too late, Lydia had just died. Mary Carol and her co-workers all knew that Lydia was dying. Lydia had been fighting cancer for several months and unfortunately she did not respond to the treatment. Mary Carol was coming to say goodbye. She said her good byes and helped the family as best she could. Then she placed a call to Gina. Mary Carol worked for Gina and so had Lydia.

When Gina did not reply to her call, Mary Carol left another message. Gina never replied to Mary Carols call. In fact, Gina never directly acknowledged or discussed Lydia’s death with the team. No manager at the company acknowledged, announced or expressed regret over Lydia’s death. It was as-if it had never happened.

The closest thing to an acknowledgement of Lydia’s death was when Gina informed the team that they could not all take off to go to the funeral and those who did go to the funeral were expected to return to the office right away.

Mary Carol and other members of the team found management’s lack of sensitivity completely offensive.

Talking about death is never easy. For any feeling manager, having a team member die is a total nightmare. Let’s be honest, just reading this story is probably difficult.

What could Gina or other members of the management team have done differently? Well that is really a loaded question since so much was missing in this situation. And much of what was missing comes back to empathy. Leaders with empathy take their employees feelings and reactions into consideration when they make decisions. It does not mean that these feelings drive all decisions, but there is an awareness of how the decisions will be received. And the way in which decisions are communicated acknowledges the feelings and reactions of employees.

Empathy is one of the dimensions of emotional intelligence or EQ. The other dimensions are Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skill. Empathy should be used to build teams and raise cross-cultural sensitivity.

If Gina had exhibited empathy she would have shared her feelings of loss with the team, she would definitely have returned Mary Carol’s phone call and she would have expressed the guidelines around attending the funeral in a much more sensitive manner. Other members of the management team would have acknowledged Lydia’s death and some type of announcement and message of sympathy would have been distributed.

Is it possible that none of the management team at this company had empathy? Not likely. This was most likely a case of one or two managers lacking empathy and others just not knowing what to do.

The end result? A team who should have been drawn together by a sad event became divided – employees vs. management once again.