Shoe Shifting

Shoe Shifting

Lisa O'Neill

Lisa O'Neill

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I think that being compassionate is one of the most wonderful abilities we have as humans. Never before have people, businesses, and organisations needed compassion like they do now. Maybe you need a little compassion yourself!


Showing compassion is the ability to feel empathy for others and to respond in a way that shows care. I call it ‘shoe shifting’. As a very judgemental person, I find ‘shoe shifting’ helps me to consider things from another person’s perspective rather than judging them from mine.

I remember reading a story in Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that has stuck with me for over 20 years. He talked about riding a subway on a Sunday morning in New York. People were sitting quietly, reading papers, or resting with eyes closed. It was a peaceful scene. Then a man and his children entered the subway car. The man sat down and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to his children, who were yelling, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. He couldn’t believe that this man could be so insensitive. Eventually, he turned and said, “Sir, your children are disturbing people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?” The man lifted his gaze as if he saw the situation for the first time. “Oh, you’re right,” he said softly, “I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

He said that at that moment everything he was thinking changed. He saw the man differently, he felt differently and behaved differently. His irritation vanished. His heart filled with compassion. Everything changed in an instant.

It’s the best example of shoe shifting I have ever found! While some people are naturally more compassionate or empathetic than others, I think it is a skill that everyone should practice. It’s kind and it’s commercially smart!

One of the most valuable learnings in the Thought Leaders Curriculum is the idea of moving from compassion to conviction when you work up the green sheet. Starting with deep compassion at the bottom with the ‘problem stack’ and then finishing at the top with the conviction of ‘how I can help’ in the value model. It’s a commercial empathy map and a genius piece of thinking.

Deliberate reflection, creating space for focused consideration, is a wonderful way to start. Considering people’s situations is an excellent way to spend an hour. During these weird and challenging times, focused consideration can help you stay relevant to the needs of those around you.

Write down the name of a client and spend five minutes thinking about them.
What industry are they in?
What has the impact of continuous lockdowns meant for them?
What do you know or imagine their biggest problem to be as they head into the end of this crazy year?
What might help them?

Consider your own practice.
What is the most difficult challenge for you right now?
What’s your biggest problem?
What are you able to do about

Consider your family members.
What has been their biggest challenge or disappointment this year?
What could you acknowledge and honour about their previous 12-month journey?

Being compassionate to our clients, our families, and our communities and super importantly, compassionate to ourselves is vital. Self-compassion is a superpower. It allows you to be gentle but it doesn’t diminish your motivation, drive or planning. It’s gentle and kind.
Open up and consider what’s really going on for people.
Be open about what’s going on for you.


Lisa O’Neill

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