Published monthly by Sharon Eakes, Hope Unlimited, LLC
FOCUS: Walk a mile
Disciplines: Personal Mastery, Systems Thinking, Shared Vision

"Never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes."
Old adage

When my son Gordon was just past two years old, we moved into a house on Beeler St. My husband and I were poor graduate students and our kids slept on mattresses on the floor. The window in their room was near the street; the traffic sounds were loud. Gordon began waking up in the middle of a nap or the middle of the night, wailing, "The Volkswagen is coming, the Volkswagen is coming!" He was inconsolable. He was sure a Volkswagen was going to come in the window and run over him. We assured him gently that cars didn't come in houses. We told him a car wouldn't fit through the window. My husband got a measuring tape and measured first the window and then the neighbor's Volkswagen to show Gordon how foolish were his fears. None of our efforts helped. Then one day Gordon and I were playing in his room. I was lying on his bed. He said, "You're a baby," so I said, "You're a mommy." He was delighted. I began to cry out, "The Volkswagen is coming, the Volkswagen is coming!" He quickly reassured me, saying, "Don't worry, baby, I'll push it out." And he went to the window and pushed. Later, when he woke up terrified, I calmly repeated his words, "Don't worry, I'll push it out." I went to the window and pushed. His terror stopped.

I always love remembering that story, because it seems rich with lessons, including the fact that fears of the future can be so clear and present. For purposes of this Musings, however, I want to focus on the importance of cultivating the ability to walk in another person's shoes.

When I worked in the drug and alcohol treatment field, therapists were annoyed that the accounting office always seemed to be haranguing them for this or that piece of information. For their part the accounting office had trouble understanding how therapists spent their time - it seemed as if they just talked with patients and how hard could that be? A program allowing each to shadow the other for several hours had remarkable results. Therapists developed new appreciation for how key their information was to the accounting process. Accounting staff developed new respect for the seriousness of the entire project of rehabilitation, and the skill required by therapists to help patients.

On several occasions when men have complained to me that their wives don't do anything - just stay home and take care of kids - I have prescribed that the men stay home one entire day and find out what their wives do. Usually the men are exhausted and eager to return to their own jobs.

How do you walk in another's shoes - or imagine another person's experience? One good way is to ask. John, a coaching client of mine, assumed one of his staff was sabotaging his leadership by not showing up for early morning teleconferences with global partners. I suggested John ask him what was going on. To John's amazement, he found the teleconferences prevented his employee from driving to work with the carpool he had organized and taking his daughter to school. They worked out a mutually agreeable compromise.

Walking in another's shoes can change your perspective, expand your understanding, and increase your empathy. As with Gordon, it can also solve difficult problems. Imagine what might happen if people were able to walk in each other's shoes when there were serious political or religious differences. Perhaps we would more quickly become citizens of one world.

Coaching Tips:
1. When you have difficulty with a family member, friend or employee, imagine walking a mile in his/her shoes.
2. When you find yourself judging others, both those you know and those you only know of, imagine walking a mile in their shoes.

Please join me for a 45-minute telegathering to explore the topic of walking in another's shoes. Call Wednesday, Sept. 6, at noon Eastern (11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. MT, 9:00 a.m. Pacific) 1-985-425-2620 X925 No need to register....just call at that time! Reach me: 1-888-907-HOPE (4673)or e-mail I am a personal and executive coach and would be happy to offer you a complimentary coaching session by phone.

Each month FRESH VIEWS focuses on a single topic, relates it to one of the five disciplines of a learning community, and offers a coaching tip and a follow-up telegathering. Please forward it to friends and colleagues. My purpose in writing FRESH VIEWS is to nurture, prod and encourage readers to think and talk about these topics with their families, friends and colleagues. Mine is only one view. Multiple conversations may deliver us to insights only hinted at here. Such a process sustains the vitality of learning relationships, learning families, learning organizations and learning communities.

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