Empathy: The DevOps Secret Weapon

Over the last year or two, I have often heard a word used in the DevOps community not usually uttered in IT circles. In fact, outside of the psychology and counseling communities, I don’t hear the word much at all. That word is “empathy”. And the more I learn about DevOps, the more I believe empathy may be the single best tool there is for building bridges and collaboration across boundaries — job #1 when considering a move to DevOps. Using empathy is better than any process, organizational redesign, or automation initiative. Empathy has tremendous power to improve any relationship that matters to you — personal and professional. Whether you’re Dev working with Ops, Ops working with Dev, IT with “the business”, or a parent with your child, everything seems to work better with a healthy dose of empathy thrown into the mix.

Why is empathy so powerful and effective? When someone shows empathy to you and your situation, here is probably what you feel.

1. You feel more understood.
Someone just gave voice to what you think and feel and probably why you think and feel the way you do. They get you. As Dev, do you understand what Ops does? As Ops, do you understand what Dev does? Do you get each other?

2. You feel more valued.
Someone just spent their time and energy to understand what you think and feel. They did that because their relationship with you was valuable enough for them to do it. It was hard work and risky for them to reach out. And yet they did. As Dev, do you value what Ops does? As Ops, do you value what Dev does? Have you showed them you do?

3. You feel more trusting.
If someone gets you and cares enough to get you, you probably trust them more than you would otherwise. You’re more likely to assume positive intent in that person. You’re more likely to reciprocate “boundary spanning” efforts. You’re more likely to be willing to collaborate with that person toward a common goal.

Showing empathy takes work and practice. My wife would tell you I need a lot of it. Just like our physical muscles, we have to exercise to build our “empathy muscles”. But the effort is so worth it — and absolutely necessary to move your organization toward DevOps.

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