Work a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

shoesIn graduate school, one of my professors made an unusual request one day.  She asked us to remove our shoes and leave them outside the door before entering the room.

Shortly after class began, she asked us to stand up, put on a pair shoes other than our own and walk the halls in silence for five minutes.  We were – literally – walking in someone else’s shoes.

Afterwards, we each described our experience.  In my classmates’ shoes, I moved with a calm, steady, almost reverent gait.  I had felt scholarly, reflective, tranquil and quiet.   (Those of you who know me know this is not how I typically move or act.)  It turned out I had been wearing the shoes of a soft-spoken research nurse. Each of my classmates had similar experiences.  As they walked, the characteristics of the shoe’s owners became evident.

The exercise beautifully illustrated the power and value of experiencing another’s perspective. I have often wondered how I could recreate the experience in a business setting.   So much of the miscommunication and conflict I see in the workplace could be mitigated or eliminated altogether if colleagues and co-workers could better understand each others perspective.

Last week I read an article about employees at a company who switched desks for two weeks.  In other words they “worked a mile” at someone else’s desk.  And they learned a lot.   What was the biggest walk away (sorry, couldn’t help the pun)?  They learned “about the people themselves–what makes them tick, what they’re excited about.”

Impact Outcome

How can your business or organization create an opportunity for leadership and staff to increase awareness and understanding of each other?