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Day 21 - Learn Empathy, You Jerk

Level 17

Hi, Tom the Younger. It’s me, Tom the Elder. I’m writing you this note because there’s something you should know.

You’re a jerk.

Now, it’s not your fault you’re a jerk. But it is your problem. And the sooner you recognize you have this problem, the better.

I could write pages of examples to demonstrate how you have been a jerk. Doing so won’t solve the issue. Instead, I’m going to give you one piece of advice to help you stop being such a jerk.

There is one skill, above all others, most critical for success in any career. Once you learn this skill, you will stop being a jerk. Well, OK, maybe “stop” is a strong word. Let’s just say this skill will slow your roll a bit. You’ll be seen as a jerk less often.

This skill will open up new possibilities for you. It will remove roadblocks. It will make for better communication between you and your coworkers. Your family will benefit, too.

It’s a skill easy to learn, too. In fact, you’ve done it yourself at times. You just don’t do enough of it. But you have the power to change, starting now.


I want you to develop your sense of empathy for others.

No, I'm not talking about Commander Deanna Troi. She was empathic; there is a difference. I'm asking for you to develop empathy for the people in your life.

The best way to develop empathy is to talk to people. It’s easy to do! Heck, you’ve been interacting with other humans most of your life, as a teacher, a coach, a cook, and even a restaurant host.

And even now, as a junior software analyst, you’re interacting with people in a technical field. You will find that it doesn’t matter what the industry, people are the same everywhere. Talk to them. Find out their priorities, their concerns, their motivations.

When you develop a sense of empathy, you will find the nature of your conversations change for the better. Empathy is going to be the key for you to manage your relationships better. Because the corporate world is all about relationships.

Oh, one more thing. The world of tech is small. The people you work with now will cross your path again at some point. And they will remember how you made them feel.

So, learn some empathy, you jerk.

Before it’s too late for us.


Tom the Elder

Level 11

Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another - think this quote says it all really.  We could all be more empathetic to others.  Everyday is a school day


Haven't we all been there - being a Jerk. And, unfortunately, we generally don't realize it. I like the fact that you mention it's not about fault, but about responsibility. Talking to people certainly is the start - listening, really listening is where empathy begins. As you listen you begin to understand the other persons feelings and perspective.

You make good points, if we could be more empathic it would go a long way in healing and building relationships. (and yes, for you very, very pragmatic types - help you accomplish your job better and easier - and help grow your career)


As a consultant, empathy is key. I need to be able to be relate to my clients, what are their concerns, how we can help, etc.

The world of tech is small. The people you work with now will cross your path again at some point.

This is so very very true. I continue to run into people from previous jobs or clients who have moved to new companies.

Level 10

'There is no normal life that is free of pain. It’s the very wrestling with our problems that can be the impetus for our growth.' - Fred Rogers

Level 12

In a fast paced world, we always need to be able to forcibly slow down so that we can be empathetic towards others.

Empathy is key to relations, however I feel that too much empathy can lead to the point that people are taking advantage of you.

Now, it’s not your fault you’re a jerk. But it is your problem.

So true, it takes effort to empathy, and its too easy to forget. Thanks for the reminder.

Your line about, "The world of tech is small. The people you work with now will cross your path again at some point. And they will remember how you made them feel." reinforces the point I made in: "Day 2 - The Future Is Hard to Guess, So Don't"

"If you are a poker player or a con artist then you are aware of the long game. For my career I have been playing the long game for decades. I make contacts, do favors, send "Let's grab lunch!" emails, give a kudos, etc. all for the long game. All for the low % chance of an opportunity to improve my career."

Level 17

A few years back I was presenting at a user group. After the session, a man walked up to me, said hello, and told me that we used to work together. My first thoughts were "OMG I was such a jerk to him". He was nice to me, and I didn't deserve it, at all. And I really want to slap Tom the Younger in the face.

I asked my mentor to show me a place where nobody had any problems, ever!  He said, "OK, there is such a place but you might not like it."  I said, "If it's a place where nobody has any problems, EVER, then I'm dying to find out what it is!!!"  He took me to a graveyard...

Point being that in this life, there will be struggles; no way around it.  Once we realilze that 1) it's not about us and 2) the other passengers on Spaceship Earth are in the same boat that we are, albeit more or less troubled, we stand a better chance of showing empathy to them.

Level 14

Most excellent topic sqlrockstar

ahhh,,, the impatience,intolerance and lack of a filter for our mouths when we are young. We are so self focused on our own issues and goals that we fail to see that empathy for others actually enhances our aspirations.

Young George learned the hard way....

always keep these things in mind....

1. Think before engaging mouth into gear

2. It's not what you say... it's how you say it. (thanks mom and dad!)

3. Harsh words are tough to swallow.

Level 14

Wonderful article and wonderful advice.  Empathy isn't something that should be glossed over.  Too often we find ourselves not looking at other perspectives....and perspective is "everything".  I've gotten a lot better about this over the years.  My younger self lacked humility and perspective.  I would most certainly add this to the list of things I'd tell my younger self. Thanks for writing this article!


To be able to teach, mentor and learn from others empathy is a critical ingredient. Closely aligned to empathy is the skill of listening, not 'nod your head' listening, but given someone the time, space and freedom to speak freely and for the listener to pay attention to every word and inflection.

Level 13

Just have passion, then you'll be ok. 

Level 10


Empathy is part of effective communication.  I would echo this to my younger self, more so in interpersonal relationships that pure business, but over all its a must have.   I only wish i had it 25 year sooner.

Passion is the rocket fuel...COMpassion is the guidance system.

Whether you're a religious person or not, many beliefs can be summed up as "don't be a dick". Some struggle with this more than others, myself included, which is why I plan to stay out of management until I've had time to grow as a person.

There it is:  Walk a mile in someone else's shoes before judging them.  Life is different when you can empathize with someone from a personal basis.

How many times have we heard good advice and not accepted it?  Why don't we accept it?

For many years I offered the idea that "An insult is like a drink.  It can't affect you if you don't accept it."  Well, good advice is the same.  If we hear good advice and don't change our actions and habits to incorporate it, it can't affect us.

Similarly, "Stick & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  And we know that's not true--words DO hurt.  Perhaps partly because they are meant to hurt, or they're true and we're ashamed, or we don't deflect them well, or they isolate us, or any number of reasons.  But we somehow accept those harsh words in one way or another, perhaps only to acknowledge someone is unhappy with us.

You've offered good advice to your younger self, and to us. 

Let the new year bring a change to our listening and accepting and changing.

Level 8

Empathy is key to customer service and diffusing those difficult users. Though, sometimes it's hard to keep up in some environments where "customers" are all about "me me me" and "my perspective".

Level 11

Spot on. Thanks for the reminder! I'm too often sympathetic and need to be more empathetic, especially with my family!

Attribution of this phrase varies but the sentiment is one I try to think of often:

There but for the grace of God go I.

I am not a religious person at this point in my life. Yet "the grace of God" is easily substituted with fate or luck. This phrase came to the forefront of my mind again recently because there is a gentleman who goes to our local coffee spot every day. His hygiene is sometimes questionable, he smokes strong cigarettes, and mumbles to himself and others. The owner and staff are always very gracious to him and a few weeks back she told me of a recent incident involving him. He was sitting in his usual corner with his collection of things and someone who knew the owner felt they could make a comment about him to her. They thought it was not appropriate that he be allowed to be there and cause some distress on other patrons. Why should this homeless man sit here and the staff enable him? The owner asked, do you know him? They said no. The owner said, first he isn't homeless he has his own apartment downtown. Second, he pays for everything he gets and isn't belligerent to anyone. Third he wasn't always like this. He was a veteran [I think from Vietnam] and it really messed with him. He came back a very different person than when he left here. He is a native of this little town and is welcome here anytime.

Now I had not known this about the gentleman. But my wife has worked in social work for decades. I have interacted with plenty of the people she has tried to help. So I never gave him a second thought. I always said hello when he made eye contact and he responded. He is just another one of the regulars at our place. When the owner told me this story this phrase just popped out of my mouth. I realize there were so many turning points in my life where I could have gone done a dark hole but something didn't let me do it. I look at others like him and think what tragic misfortune set them down their path. They too were once someone's baby.

Empathy isn't always about relating to the tragedy though. I think it can simply be the recognition that it isn't all about you. That the scowl on the others face is because of something else that happened to them. The rage they are expressing doesn't all belong to you. It is difficult to think and react this way all the time. Our minds self interest is very strong. Yet realizing that everyone else is also the lead actor in their own play and you are just a supporting actor or even just an extra can help keep things in perspective.

Level 14

Well said.

Level 14

Empathy is one thing we are losing touch with in the digital age.  Our ability to empathize with others is what makes us human.

Level 10

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Wonderfully said, Tom. I would recommend checking out the first song in this performance by my all-time favorite artist, Martin Sexton.

Level 15

Spot on. All the tech skills in the world won't help you work with people.

The opposite of anger is not calmness, its empathy. Mehmet Oz

Level 9

Terrific article...empathy and being able to hold conversations is a must.

Level 9

Must have for any network technician.  You have to put yourself in the users position to truly understand.

Level 9

If it's not empathy, it comes off as apathy.


I need to send this note to my younger self as well!


Level 10

When I think about empathy brings to note the term EQ, emotional quotient.

I think that typically those who go into IT type careers tend to have a low EQ. Not sure if that is because the analytical learning causes a decrease in EQ, or that low-EQ people are drawn to analytical fields. I would suggest that most of the members of this community might be on the lower range for EQ.

"My wife says I only have two bad traits. One, that I don't listen well and some other crap she was rattling on about."


for some folks, empathy is seen as a weakness or something to be taken advantage of.

Not sure if there are more of them around or we just hear about them more

Level 10

Leadership is about empathy. It is about having the ability to relate to and connect with people for the purpose of inspiring and empowering their lives.

— Oprah Winfrey

Empathy can be the difference between a bad manager and a great manager.

Community Manager
Community Manager

100% spot on. All the <insert skills> in the world won't help you work with people.

Level 20

Being able to put oneself in the shoes of others and experience what they go through is a skill that reaps massive benefit.  It's not an easy skill to learn.  Some are gifted with this skill and others only acquire it after many trials and errors.

Level 14

The good thing about walking a mile in someone else's shoes is that if you still don't like them you will be a mile away and have their shoes.

About the Author
Thomas LaRock is a Head Geek at SolarWinds and a Microsoft® Certified Master, SQL Server® MVP, VMware® vExpert, and a Microsoft Certified Trainer. He has over 20 years experience in the IT industry in roles including programmer, developer, analyst, and database administrator.