Not too long ago I remember driving on 81 near Carlisle – our hometown.  For a strange, brief moment I didn’t know where I was. Yes, I knew I was on 81 and I lived in Carlisle. But there was something missing, which I’m struggling at this moment to describe. It was as if I had never been where I was – all the familiar parts of the highway and surrounding area were completely unfamiliar. Nothing was resonating with my memory – I couldn’t seem to pull up and match with the peripherals around me. It’s happened many times, though thankfully, the lights come on pretty quickly.  Usually, it takes a couple of seconds and everything is normal again.

Sounds like a medical condition!

But I don’t think so. I think it’s just a mental thing in the moment that, for whatever reason, blocks out all the points of familiarity I’ve accumulated over the years of being on this road.   Makes me appreciate the peripherals I have around me 99.99% of the time.  And makes me think about the peripherals that others don’t have, especially when I’ve treated them under the unconscious assumption that they did.   No wonder there were gaps in their understanding and performance. Perhaps if I understood upfront that others don’t always have my peripherals, I might be more patient, more open-minded, and more empathetic.

The next time we’re giving directions, or training someone, or teaching a concept to one of our kids or one of our colleagues...let’s ask ourselves: “Do they have my peripherals?” If they don’t, you may want to change the way you communicate by having more patience, providing more upfront clarity, gaining more understanding, and being truly empathetic. Speaking of empathy…

We’ve all heard empathy defined as “Walking in someone else’s shoes.” Have you ever said, “If I was in their shoes, I’d …”? That’s not empathy – It’s still YOU in their shoes.

If I’m being truly empathetic, I’m not only in their shoes, I’m in their head, with all their peripherals, and none of mine. Changes everything.