Engineering Empathy

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This was a talk I gave at an internal R&D conference my last week at Workiva. I got a lot of positive feedback on the talk, so I figured I would share it with a wider audience. Be warned: it’s long. Feel free to read each section separately, though they largely tie together.

Why do you work where you work? For many in tech, the answer is probably culture. When you tell a friend about your job, the culture is probably the first thing you describe. It’s culture that can be a company’s biggest asset—and its biggest downfall. But what is it?

Culture isn’t a list of values or a mission statement. It’s not a casual dress code or a beer fridge. Culture is what you reward and what you don’t. More importantly, it’s what you reward and what you punish. That’s an important distinction to make because when you don’t punish behavior that’s inconsistent with your culture, you send a message: you don’t care about it…

Extremely Positive People Aren’t as Good at Empathy | Big Think

This article is a repost promoting content originally published elsewhere. See more things Dan's reposted.

People with extremely sunny attitudes find it difficult to empathize with people who are recounting a negative experience, according to a study recently published at PLOS ONE. Ironically, positive people also reported being better at empathizing than did people who labelled themselves as slightly less than bubbly…

How Learning To Be Vulnerable Can Make Life Safer – Empathy increases Shell oil workers’ safety by 83%

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Men who worked on oil rigs lived by certain rules. They were tough. They worked under any conditions. They didn’t ask questions. It was this way as far back as Tommy Chreene, 60, who started working on rigs in the Gulf of Mexico back when he was 15, can remember.

Back then, it wasn’t unusual to see someone die on an oil rig. Chreene remembers the death of one man who had just finished a shift. He was standing before an enormous pipe that the workers twisted into the ground and held in place with a handle. The man kicked the handle, and the tension on the pipe released. It caught the man’s ankle as it whipped around…

Helpless – Post Script

Yawny morning.

Got to sleep eventually. Basically, my friend’s problems can’t be solved by anybody but themselves. I’m going to offer to be there, be supportive, and to help them in any way they can, but in the end, what’s troubling them can’t be solved by anybody else. Will try to get a chance to speak to them later today.

For now, however, I have a deadline to wage war with.


I can’t sleep.

For the last week or so, I’ve talked a little every day or two with a really good friend of mine who is, unfortunately, going through some problems at the moment. They’d been quite understating and evasive about talking about them at length until yesterday, when they suddenly revealed to me quite how difficult they’re finding their life, of late.

What scared me more than how bad their situation is is that I honestly don’t know what I can do or say to help them. I’ve tried everything I can think of and it’s beginning to upset me that I don’t know what else to try.

I still can’t sleep.