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The Power of Empathy

Updated: Jul 18, 2020

To be empathetic is to understand another persons perspective on a given topic or situation. It is seeing the world through their eyes. Empathy is not, however, the same as agreement. You do not need to share the beliefs of the person in order to be empathetic. As chefs, we spend a lot of time teaching and delegating and in most cases, when a young or less experienced member of the team disagrees with an aspect of our operation, our most common instinct is to try and reverse their perspective and guide it to what we need or want it to be. Our instinct to do this is sometimes because of our need for control and respect. Sometimes it is because this is the way it has always been and they need to "deal with it." After all, what do they know? They haven't paid their dues. They haven't gone through half of what we have been through. Don't get me wrong, there are many cases, maybe most, in which it actually is the inexperience speaking and we need to turn that into a teachable moment for the better of the team or the food. The big question is, do you solicit the perspective of your team at all levels? Do you want to hear it, and if so, can you accept and use the information to guide your decision making as a manager. As leaders, we have the opportunity to create and improve upon the environment of our team. We have the opportunity to be different and create a new perception of what it means to be a cook. Empathy can be a powerful tool in accomplishing this. I have found it very useful to conduct periodic check-ins with my team to learn a bit about their perspective. How do they like coming to work everyday? How do they like our systems and procedures? How do they like me? Ten or fifteen minutes of listening can go a long way. After you conduct a number of these check-ins, you may begin to see a pattern in which the same comments are made by several different people. This is usually a good indication that there may be an opportunity to make small adjustments that could greatly improve the retention of your team. It's OK to be confident as a Chef and to stand by your philosophy and experience but if you believe that everything you do is the best it can be, than you have also decided never to improve.

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