“Any tea or coffee?” A daily question I asked with a smile when I was in the restaurant trade. More often than not, the reply was a floater coffee. A beautiful dark bodied coffee, with a layer of sumptuous cream magically floating on the top. Mixed with the coffee were different requests, whiskey making it a famous Irish Coffee, Tia Maria making it the ladies Calypso Coffee, Baileys for the extra cream, and of course just plain original, unadulterated coffee. I remember making one of these for the first time, it was a disaster. The cream just did not float, and always sunk and not aesthetically pleasing at all. After a while of continued practice, without the whiskey, I mastered it. It became quite therapeutic and I just loved the look of them, as well as being absolutely delicious.
With the recent social media trend of Dalgona Coffee (which looks so, so good by the way), it made me think of these floaters I made everyday for over a decade. Making one at home, I quickly realised how simply this coffee presents itself in possessing one of the most important skills in business. Ensuring increased sales, aspirational leadership, improved productivity to name a few. Socially too, a skill to keep relationships with loved ones alive and heartfelt. So what is it?
Before the answer, let’s get back to the coffee. The key to making the cream beautifully float on top of the coffee is sugar. The sugar mixed and dissolving into the coffee helps the coffee become denser and increase the surface tension. Using a teaspoon to gently the pour cold cream places it on the surface, providing that cool, stark contrast of dark coffee layer below a bold white statement floating on top. It’s those colours that really stand out for me. Especially the white. The colour white can represent and embue many, mostly positive feelings and attributes. Completion, wholeness, maybe even perfection. Certainly balance, as by definition white is the balance of all the colours of the spectrum. You could even link it to other attributes such as encouragement, protection, peace, calm. In some cultures, it represents new beginnings. However, as described, it takes some skills and effort to ensure the whiteness of the cream to float, to keep its structure and not have the dark coffee body get muddied or clouded by gravity. The sugar is not even visible when gazing upon your glass. And it is this sugar, this invisible item that should be within us all, and that is empathy.
Viewing life from another persons perspective, to experience what others go through, to understand and appreciate enables you to be able respond appropriately, predict the right course of action, identify and overcome problems you would not normally see. The key word here is how others feel, not you.
Naturally then this skill can prove invaluable in the professional world. Imagine going into a meeting, knowing the outcome, purely because you have done your homework in understanding what others want, need and feel. I recall a sales meeting with a potential client where I admitted the service I was pitching was not the right fit for them. He was surprised to hear it, but it actually made me realise what he did need. That same client did end up being a client, but for a different request that actually matched what we could do. Leaders that are empathetic to their teams inspire and motivate, leading to improved productivity and morale. At one conference I attended, I was part of a small global project implementation team numbering less than 20, amongst a total project members of a couple hundred. The pressure on us, as a small delivery team was huge. We were all concerned about knowledge, support, being in the front line and loneliness due the high level of travel coming. However the leader of this whole project, told this small team to stand up in this massive conference hall and look around. Stating everyone that is sat down is here exclusively for you. Immediately that message was so powerful and directly addressed our core feelings and concerns. We weren’t alone and we had the support. We left that conference, confident, motivated and eager to deliver.
Empathy is crucial to not only professional but also personal relationships. Be it romantic, family and friends. Understanding how your loved ones feel helps build bridges between divides, provide the right kind of attention, focussing on the positives as well going some way to identify your own flaws.
It is then, even more relevant during these days of lockdown and the ensuing pandemic of the Coronavirus. We are all in the same position. Fear, boredom, yearning, loneliness and plenty of other varying degrees of emotions, dependant on our personalities and environment. We are empathising with ourselves everyday. Now is the time to also to magnify this with others. Now is the time to perfect and harness our empathy to not only understand ourselves and others but also act upon it, ready more than ever following this period of uncertainty.
So be like this floater coffee. Realise the hidden sugar within you to use your empathy to attain the success in your environment and keep the white cream floating. If everyone in the world could empathise with each other, the world will truly would be a better place with or without deadly viruses. Peace and Love.
Having over 15 years’ experience in freight forwarding and supply chain management, Ali has led numerous multi-disciplined projects and operations globally. A change management specialist having worked within multiple industry verticals. He is also a coffee-obsessed, solo-travelling introvert.
Ali is also a published author with his latest book; Building Your Bridge: An Introvert’s Art of Success. A personal journey to help guide professional introverts to realising that as an introvert, the skills and traits for success are already within their grasp. Available now here.