Memory, empathy & the pathway forward.

It’s said that every time you recall something you change the memory. So in fact our memories are never an accurate reflection of what happened, precisely. They a version of our truth, but not the ultimate truth. It becomes the story that we tell ourselves; not the reality to which we have experienced.

But the abstract connection with reality doesn’t lessen the impact of the story (or the memory) on us as people. So that’s where it get’s complicated.

If this is indeed all true, then challenges we face at work (or in any part of our lives) to resolve conflict and come to a common understanding of a situation can seem impossible. How do we reconcile two stories that while similar, are nuanced with slight differences?

I’ve sat in what I call the middle of the table, between a manager and employee; listening to two people argue about essentially the same thing, searching for the pathway forward.

The pathway forward would be easier, had the relationship been founded in empathy and compassion, long before the conversation being had in that moment.

A foundation where there is a common understanding that each of us are unique individuals battered and bruised in someway by life’s daily joys and turmoil. That while we see things differently, different isn’t bad. Where we are compassionate enough to recognise intensity of emotions and feel safe enough to know that when there is a problem to overcome, that we ourselves are not the problem. It’s not about blame – it’s about understanding.

We all come with a story. The story we have crafted for ourselves about our life which casts a shadow or a light over every interaction we have.

Understanding that there is another side to the coin, a blind spot, a perspective that we can’t see – having the patience to hear it and explore it.. well that’s the pathway to a better relationship – with whoever is on the other side of the table.

** If you’re feeling like some brain food, this video about Empathy vs Sympathy is one I find particularly insightful.

This blog post from Seth Godin is also intriguing when it comes to exploring our inner narrative.

This article in the New Yorker is longer form and explores memory even further and its connection to emotional responses.

Image credit: Nancy Kamergorodsky


Psychology in HR – Too much of a good thing?

We are very caught up in the psychology of HR at the moment.  A recent article in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources included commentary on the disciplines that make up the HR mix. Great HR is a mix of psychology, economics, finance, social science and industrial relations just to name a few. But what we are seeing right now is a real dominance of psychology, especially when we start to talk about engagement, recruitment and talent management.

….much research into people management continues to be psychology driven (and US-centric), generating simplistic ideas about the universal effects of workplace relations practices (pg. 395).

No doubt psychology provides us with an excellent way to approach business and people management, but if we get to caught up in one thing we miss the bigger picture. Let’s take the example of employee engagement. There is a lot of talk about the psychology of connection and commitment to organisations. But engagement is about economics and the broader business landscape as well.

…insights about the behaviour of individuals in organisations need to be placed in a broader social, legal, political and institutional context (pg. 395).

The key point here is that we need to make sure we are approaching things in a balanced and rational way. The psychology standpoint the flavour of the moment but there is more too it. HR as more than an administrative and discipline function has a long way to go and I reckon what’s key is ensuring we don’t get swept up in the latest trend and keep our eyes on the prize!

Further Reading

Kasyanenko , T., Nevado , P., Rimmer , M., & Eduarda Soares , M. (2014). The psychologisation of workplace relations: why social context matters (Vol. 52). Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources .