That cartoon was a little bit of wish fulfilment fantasy for anyone who has given, given, given, only to see others take, take, take.
What follows is the not entirely unrelated story of Sceptica and Empathic, friends, colleagues, rivals and opposites. I hope you enjoy it…
Sceptica and Empathic decided to set themselves a light-hearted challenge to work out once and for all whose style was more effective: they would both organise a party, and the winner would be the one who performed best against a pre-determined metric. They couldn’t agree on a single, definitive metric, however, so they went into the challenge with two metrics, one suggested by each of them.
Sceptica was reluctant to go first, so Empathic, fully understanding his friend’s position, took the plunge and set about organising a date for the party that best suited everyone’s needs, whilst engaging in a fairly in-depth consultation exercise as to what the theme for the party should be. Six months later, exasperated, Empathic told everyone to, “Just come as you are, this Saturday night.” Full of goodwill towards Empathic, loads of people showed up and had a great time. The party was judged to have been a huge success afterwards by friends and co-workers alike, but no one was quite sure if the theme had been Eighties Glam or Victorian Parents. As for Empathic, he was exhausted from the stress of the party’s long, drawn out organisation, and the emotional fatigue caused by his involvement in several, drink-fuelled heart to hearts during the party itself.
Still unsure about going ahead, but loyal to her friend and the bargain they had struck, Sceptica now commenced upon the organisation of her own party. Always lacking conviction however, she only managed to get a few people along, and Sceptica’s party was an altogether more muted affair than Empathic’s overcrowded, emotion fest had been. There was no doubt or uncertainty over the dress code however, since Sceptica unequivocally declared herself against fancy dress in all its forms from the outset. “I don’t see the point,” was both the beginning and the end of her argument on this matter.
The two friends got together shortly after Sceptica’s party to decide who the winner was. Empathic won hands down on his chosen metric of number of guests in attendance. Sceptica, meanwhile, came home a clear victor on her chosen metric of time spent organising per guest attending.
They sat there in silence for a moment as the truth dawned that there was no winner – or, as Empathic preferred to say, that they had both won.
Then, causing Empathic to smile inside at his friend’s turns of phrase, Sceptica said, “What’s wrong with me is that I can strengthen a plan, because I can see all the reasons why it won’t work, but I can also kill potential with too much reality. What’s wrong with you is that you bring people with you, but progress is always too slow, and the toll it takes on you is too great. But what if we organised a party together? I’ll lead the planning, but you can tell me when I’m ensuring mediocre outcomes with my why this or that will never work scenarios. And you lead the implementation, but I’ll tell you when you’re getting sucked too far into other people’s dramas. If that works, then we can organise something else together, but you can do the planning with my support, and I’ll lead the implementation with you at my side.”
Empathic loved his colleague’s suggestion, and they shook on the new deal. More importantly, Empathic realised that this model could significantly reduce the strain he was feeling at work from getting too involved with the feelings and needs of others.
When Sceptica got promoted ahead of Empathic a few months later, Empathic was the first to congratulate his friend, and couldn’t believe it when he heard Sceptica’s acceptance speech. Here’s what she said…
“You know, I’ve learnt something very important in the last few months. Maybe the same is true of all opposites, but my specific realisation is that the deeper purpose of scepticism and empathy is to make each other work. Scepticism, unchecked, is a black hole into which a team’s full power and potential can disappear, never to be seen again. But empathy is a black hole too, into which many a well-intentioned manager has fallen, never to return. The best way to make empathy fly is to form an alliance with scepticism. And the best way to make scepticism fly…”
At this point, Sceptica seemed to hesitate, before stopping altogether. Then she smiled, picked up a plastic cup from the water cooler, and proposed a toast to her friend, and inspiration, Empathic.
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