In a recent conversation with a former colleague, I was asked about my perspective about what it means to care about others at work and how to make it happen. While I was able to offer my opinion fairly quickly, the question stayed with me all week - I couldn’t brush it off. To be perfectly honest, it’s because it reminded me of the anger I needed to process early in my burnout recovery. I remember distinctly telling my therapist, “I don’t believe they really care.” When asked who I was referring to by “they”, I couldn’t really answer. I was simply directing the emotion to an external entity or environment before I could properly process and take personal responsibility.
Here’s what I’ve learned about caring about others since then.
It starts with me, and I cannot delegate it.
I need to truly care about me first, before I can deeply care about others, and before I can expect others to extend the same to me.
I directed blame at others for my lack of ability to recognise what was happening to me, to set and enforce my boundaries and to attend to my needs. While my environment also influences my wellbeing, it is so much more empowering to feel that I am in control of it and not delegating it to others.
To care is to invest time and energy.
Caring about others is an investment of time and energy. I cannot truly care by quickly passing someone at the hallway and exchanging quick “How are you’s” and then rushing off to the next commitment. Or starting off a meeting with “You look really tired” and jumping straight into the agenda.
To care requires slowing down and hitting the “pause button” of that invisible rhythm that sets the unmanageable pace of our days. To care requires a conscious choice to stop and to notice a colleague, a friend, a family member who hasn’t been “acting like themselves” lately.
To care is to exercise courage.
To care is to exercise courage to face the truth of what we notice, especially when it’s not sunshine and roses. When we notice someone else looking tired all the time, or struggling to perform at work, and we ask “How are you really doing?”, it’s the courage of being ready to receive the response “I am not doing well lately” and being ready to respond without judgment.
I’ve learned that people shy away from reaching out, not because they don’t care, but because they are afraid of what they might hear back, of saying the “wrong thing”, of invading privacy. I understand where this comes from and leads me to my last point:
It's less about "getting it right"
To extend care about others is not about “getting it right” or having the perfect words. Instead, it’s about making the other feel acknowledged, that they matter. At the end of the day, I still believe that acting from a place of good intent, sincerity and thoughtfulness are far more valuable than having the perfect words and the perfect solutions.