We write stories in our heads to explain others’ behavior. When someone rubs us the wrong way, these negative narratives develop untamed until we experience life from their perspective.
Kristie experienced this during a drawn-out game of cat and mouse with a client a few years ago. She sent email after email to get a single, short response. Every time she needed another document or piece of information, the process started over. Even phone calls couldn’t motivate the person on the other end. She began to dread communicating with him because she knew it would take longer than it should almost no matter what.
When the time came for her and other team members to visit this client for their organization’s yearly audit, she was afraid of having to badger this client for the remaining information she still needed. But on arriving to the office, she met a different person than she had expected to deal with.
Face-to-face and in his normal office environment, Kristie noticed how extraordinarily busy this point-of-contact was. Boxes full of documents cluttered his office and for every problem he solved while she was there, it seemed as if two more clamored for his attention.
What happened to Kristie that day is the reason we emphasize being relational on the audit trail. When she entered his environment, her perspective changed, which allowed her to empathize with the client, rather than focusing on the difficult experience she had.
We encounter truly busy people on a regular basis. It’s impossible to know what their day has been like or where they are in life, so it’s important to always offer empathy before writing people off as problematic. To borrow an analogy from Simon Sinek, you never know whether the person who just cut you off in traffic is rushing to the hospital or panicking after having just lost their job. Even when it’s hard, offering empathy first allows you to connect with the people around you and serve them well.