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I'm just not feeling it: when a coworker lacks empathy

A coworker is back to work after a huge personal setback. Everyone on staff offers sympathy, and support. Well, everyone except for the one coworker who seems to have been behind the door when empathy and compassion were handed out.

You ask the returning coworker how they are doing, but the empathy-challenged coworker has only one question for them: So, when will you be done with the invoice? I need it as soon as possible. Wow.

It's Business, Not Personal
We are facing a crisis of compassion in our country that's emanating from the very top, and it is quite scary. Smart leaders would be wise to ponder how the empathy lacking in our national discourse could be trickling into the workplace, because a clear lack of empathy on the part of one coworker risks undermining the entire team's morale, productivity and job tenure.

Few of us want to work in an environment that lacks heart and soul. We are human beings, and we need to know that empathy and compassion exist -- albeit perhaps quietly, shh! -- in our place of work. An entire office can begin to feel like it is working underneath a dark cloud when basic empathy is undermined by the coworkers severely lacking in it.

When A Coworker Just Can't Care
Imagine you go to work and encounter the coworker who says something like this:

Yeah, I heard [a coworker] was just diagnosed with a terminal illness, but all I care about is that he hasn't finished the spreadsheet yet.

Whoa. Did your coworker just say this out loud? Yes. Yes, he did. And you are suddenly at a loss for words. How to respond to thoughtless, cold comments uttered in the heart of the workplace can feel both daunting, and depressing.

I realize that it is generally preferable to say nothing, and to assume that what a coworker says reflects badly on them. But when we say nothing in response to somebody who lacks empathy, we offer our tacit approval of their comment.

We need to stand up for empathy, compassion, kindness and putting ourselves in somebody else's shoes at work. We need to value these traits. We need to clearly, and calmly, do what is right in this situation.

Yes, he was just diagnosed with a terminal illness this morning, but I think we can agree that his health is more important than a spreadsheet, right?

A verbal smackdown? Yes. But not unwarranted in a national climate where empathy suddenly feels in short supply. A compassionate workplace culture doesn't just happen. It takes cultivation, and a lot of work on the part of everyone in the company.

I believe empathy is alive and well in the vast majority of us. This means it is our job to remind our empathy-challenged coworkers that they are vastly outnumbered at work when it comes to empathy and compassion. The entire company will be better off for making our feelings known.


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