This post previously appeared in November, 2010.

In today’s blog I’d like to talk about a somewhat squishy topic that was utmost in my mind recently during a personal event. That topic is empathy on the job, or, rather, lack thereof.

Here’s the story briefly: My father went to his family doctor on a Monday about a breathing problem. Since it had been three years since the last battery of tests he’d had, his doctor decided to admit him into the hospital overnight for more tests. So they run the tests that night, up until 12:30 the next morning. They tested parts of his body he didn’t even know he still had.

Then we waited. All the next day, and most of the next. Because it is the law of the land, only the admitting doctor can sign the discharge papers. Despite having been paged the second night and half of the third day, the doctor did not see fit to come by.

Now, my dad doesn’t complain. This man wouldn’t complain if you were repeatedly striking him in the head with a ball peen hammer. But he had convinced himself that he had some terminal illness and they were waiting to break the news to him. We were all held hostage as we waited minute to minute for the doctor, afraid if we left the room she’d come by.

So at one point, my frustration took over and I took some alternative channels to get the doctor’s attention. She finally came in late on the third day, not very happy, told my dad that he was in perfect health except for some allergies. Then she signed the papers and breezed out.

Now, I use that extreme example to illustrate what can happen when those in the business of serving others fail to put themselves in the shoes of their customers (or, in our case, patients). Maybe you don’t have a scared old man waiting on you, but your end-users have a dependence on you to do ALL of your job. Technical expertise is marvelous but if it stops there–if there is no consideration of the person receiving the benefit of that expertise–then what’s the point?

For the IT pro: Accountants can’t do reports if the tool you’ve created for them doesn’t operate the way they need it to, so your actions are holding up a part of their lives. If a tool you’ve created for an end-user takes three times longer than it should because you didn’t really take the user’s needs in mind when creating it, then that’s a problem. The slickest tool in the world is worthless unless it can be used for its intended need. By failing to deliver that, you’re not doing all of your job, which is delivering a product that the customer can use.

This need for consideration is true even if it’s a matter of completing your part of a project before the next person in line has to do his. A lot of people think, “So what if I miss my deadline by a day or two?” It’s a big deal because you can rest assured that someone further down the line, closer to the final deadline, will bear the brunt of those missed interim milestones. You are working with people (who are affected by what you do or don’t do) and not some vague concept of “them.”