Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Person Walking on Beach

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“Seek first to understand and then seek to be understood,” Stephen R. Covey’s fifth habit from his book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is easier said than done. To truly grow and succeed in this habit, we must recognize how we empathize and how we can sincerely enhance that ability.

An exercise to help achieve that is to walk a mile in another person’s shoes—or sandals—a practice dating back to Roman times and earlier. By putting yourself in another’s place and experiencing what he or she may be going through, you increase the emotional intelligence competence of empathy.

This week, my Master in Management students are practicing empathy—understanding another person’s views of life.

Empathy SidebarIf you are game to play along, here’s your assignment: choose a person and situation, and then experience what it is like to fully understand that person’s feelings, needs and how they are responding or reacting to a situation. Observe and sincerely attempt to understand their perspectives without judgment. This will require being present to the person, reflecting and practicing active and empathetic listening. Inquire how they are feeling and see how close you are to understanding what they are experiencing during the situation. Notice how this makes you feel and how the person responds to you.

It is important to be sincere. If your intentions are sincere, then you will communicate in a meaningful way. This week, you will be listening to people and yourself much more carefully. Since you are practicing new habits, your old mental models may inhibit your ability to fully understand from another’s perspective. Notice when that happens and what those models may be, if they block your understanding and how you feel as a result.

After reflecting and even partaking in this exercise, what have you learned about others? About yourself? What do you plan to change? Please let me know.

After self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation, empathy is the next step in true emotional intelligence. Developing and growing relationships follows. Stay tuned.


  1. Hi Chris,
    I tool the EI course as part of my MiM program in 2001. It was a great class. I enjoyed your blog on empathy. I write the monthly ad for the back page of the Sneak Preview each month. This month I did it through the eyes of Bonnie, my therapy dog. The website address for the article is http://www.roemotors.com/backpage. She discusses how we can help others undergoing grief in their lives, including using empathy.

    • Thanks, Steve – I took the EI course as part of my MiM program in 2010. Glad it’s still going strong as the competency is so important in living a fulfilling life. Thanks for sharing Bonnie’s insights :-)

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