Sunday, July 25, 2010

Empathy, Personal Connections and Effective Communication

Over the years, I have been guilty of incorrectly using the terms sympathy and empathy.

Empathy - The ability to co-experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of another without them being communicated directly by the individual.

Sympathy - The ability to understand and to support the emotional situation or experience of another being with compassion and sensitivity.


To me, the greatest differentiation between the two is that empathy is based upon a bonded relationship, while sympathy can be felt from a distance with people you don't know at all.

Though there are many situations in life that I hope to never personally endure, I have a strong desire to develop the personal connection that will afford me the opportunity to empathize with others. For too much of my life I have been guilty of "mirror imaging" and assuming others think like I do and value the same things. In essence, I saw their experiences through my eyes and drew my own conclusions. How wrong is that?!? I could answer the question..."What would you do if you were in my position?" but might have trouble dealing with "What would you do if you shared my values, experiences and goals in life and was presented with this very situation?"

As with many aspects of my post-adolescent personal development, I can credit my wife with helping me to see the difference. She has taken a deliberate approach to connecting with our son. That is, she communicates with him to such a degree that she not only sees his life through her eyes, but also through the eyes of a seven year old boy who has experienced what he has thus far. Some might argue that a parent's job is to help their child see life through the eyes of a responsible adult, and in time that is every parent's long term objective. However, how likely is it that a seven year old is capable of making such a leap? Why would anyone even try to help them to make such a leap?

At work, I have taken a similar approach to connecting with the team of which I am a new member. In the last two weeks, I have met one-on-one with approximately half of our 150+ member team (and the six 20 minute sessions I will get with each remaining member of the team is the highlight of each day). The immediate goal of each session is to learn more about each other (not what we have done, but who we are), listen to the goals of each and every team member and hear what it is each individual likes and dislikes about the command. The overarching objective is to see the command through the eyes of each person, as well as connect on an individual level so that we can better help each other meet both our individual and collective goals during our limited time together. So far, I can tell you that we have a very diverse team (Note: We measure diversity in terms of thought and not race, gender or ethnicity), where passion, intellect and service is the common thread.

Personal connections are made and strengthened only through effective communication. Without meaningful communication, there is no hope of ever truly being able to empathize with a fellow human being, nor can you expect to truly be of service to them in a time of need. Likewise, to empathize one must be able to see things through the eyes of another. And to see things through the eyes of another, one must show the level of caring by making the time to connect and strengthen/maintain that relationship over time. Those who care enough to truly connect are better parents, leaders, followers, teachers, students, friends, teammates, etc. Those who don't are merely going through the motions, and life is far too short to do anything without thoughtful intention. My goal is to prepare myself to empathize with everyone who truly matters to me as we celebrate life's milestones together and share our collective journey.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Commuting Dilemma: Fun Trumps Work (For Once)

As mentioned in an earlier post, my family very much enjoys the nomadic lifestyle. Once we are notified of an imminent move, we begin picturing life in our new home with new friends and enjoying new adventures. (That is not to minimize the adventures, friends and memories we created in current and previous stops.) While fantasizing about our future, I begin researching places to live and the house hunting commences. The search usually focuses on a combination of three attributes (in priority order):

- Proximity to work
- Affordability
- Safety

Whether it was San Diego, Italy, Maryland or Tennessee, those three criteria drove our decision. As we began exploring life in Pensacola, we decided to add a fourth attribute and move it to the top of the list...proximity to fun. Most people consider these very attributes and parents will likely trump everything for the "right" school, so I see nothing unique about our original criteria. (Note: I only pay attention to school district as a means of measuring quality of neighbors and resale value, because a "blue ribbon" designation hardly a good school makes, but that is a separate discussion). The fact that my current commute of 16 miles to work is my furthest since 1998 demonstrates our commitment to the "life is too short to spend it commuting" mentality.

So why did we embrace the "long" commute and modify our housing decision algorithm?

I am not one to hide from my many flaws and within my immediate family it is no secret that on any given day I can talk each of us into believing we shouldn't go somewhere fun because "it's too far away." On the other hand, I can never talk myself out of my responsibilities at work and always find my way to the office regardless of the obstacle. So our thought this time around was to "live close to work, but closer to fun." We have only been here six weeks and I can honestly say we have created more family fun in that period than we had in the last year. Maybe that speaks more to my failure in the last year than any recent success, but I am not looking back. You can bet that I will be at work when I need to, but my family can be equally confident in my willingness to not only participate but even drag them to the fun by which we are surrounded. Thus far we have walked to the beach almost daily, we journeyed two miles to go parasailing and ride jet-skis, and we got closer to a Blue Angel Air Show than ever before. Sure, I could have cut the commute to work by more than half and even saved a few bucks by doing so. However, if proximity to work remained our most heavily weighted decision input, our experience in Pensacola to date would be so very different and the continual smiles on our faces might not be so prevalent.

I have no doubt that adopting this philosophy earlier would have changed at least a few housing decisions in our past. More importantly, it will influence future decisions. As long as I am able to maintain True Wealth, our days in suburbia are behind us and proximity to fun (or at least our definition thereof) will trump all other criteria.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Change of Command

I haven't made the time to post for almost a month now, as I have instead been making the time for other things. Of all the wonderful things I have enjoyed over the past month, by far the most significant was the NIOC Pensacola Change of Command Ceremony held on 01 JUL 2010 in the Naval Aviation Museum. There are many things worth sharing about the day, among them is who was in the audience.

For months, I had been downplaying the ceremony and encouraging loved ones not to come. I did so for a couple of reasons. First, I don't enjoy being the center of attention nor do I want to give the impression that anything in life is about me. Second, the ceremony is traditionally more about the outgoing commanding officer and celebrating the accomplishments of the command under his/her leadership. It wasn't until late in the game when I came to grips with the significance of the day and the importance of having a few especially meaningful people to share it with. I was grateful my parents, in-laws, friends from The Naval Academy and past duty stations, as well as valued mentors chose to disregard my original wishes and made rather significant sacrifices to be there for me...just as they always have. Looking back on it, there were a few others I wish could have been there, but I know they were there in spirit.

During the entire ceremony, I was observing the audience, smiling continuously and doing my best to take it all in. Once I saluted VADM Barry McCullough, officially relieving Captain Frank Shaul, I took the podium and did my best to control my excitement. After telling the audience how much I was looking forward to that very moment, I paused to relish it before sharing the following words:

"Admiral McCullough, Family, Friends and Mentors, thank you very much for making the time to be a part of this special day. Many of you made significant sacrifices to be here today (traveling from TN, TX, MD, NY and CA among other distant lands) to show your support FOR me, but my hope is that you leave here knowing that I realize I am here BECAUSE of you and how much I appreciate each and every one of you. It is the deliberate interest you have taken in my personal and professional development over the years that has given the Navy reason to provide me with the honor of standing before you today. I am grateful for and humble by your choice to share in this day, as it is special for a number of reasons.

Captain Shaul, congratulations on a successful tour and I thank you for turning over such a qualified, passionate and cohesive team. Speaking of the team, will the Total Force NIOC Pensacola Team past and present, including any family members, please rise to be recognized.

To the NIOC Pensacola team - Though it is likely not all that obvious from your current vantage point, make no mistake, the purpose of this ceremony is to celebrate YOU…YOU as individuals and as a team. This ceremony as well as the long, enjoyable and safe holiday weekend before us, provides us with a strategic pause and affords us an opportunity for reflection. While we reflect upon our nation's birth and the significant challenges we as a country continue to overcome, please make the time to celebrate the milestones closer to home. Think about how YOU have contributed to the lives of fellow Shipmates, how YOU have contributed to command mission accomplishment and how YOU have grown thus far in YOUR Navy adventure. For on Tuesday, WE will cease the admiration of our wake and will instead begin collaboratively charting OUR course.

Today is about YOU and more importantly it is about US. Enjoy the long weekend, be safe and just like everything worth doing in life, make it meaningful!"


It was a day I will never forget for many reasons. The biggest reason being that it marked my beginning as a member of the NIOC Pensacola Team. Never before have I been a part of a team that is more aligned with my personal philosophies and never before have I observed a team that has contributed so much unbeknownst to so many. This command is very good and as we become great it will have little to do with the guy wearing the command pin and everything to do with the rest of the team. For at NIOC Pensacola, no one works FOR anyone, we work WITH each other.