James Osho on empathy and problem solving

Combining empathy and problem solving to come to mutual solutions and sustained work and life practices.

James Osho on empathy and problem solving

James Osho
20 March 2023

James is on the Nigeria Country Management Team and oversees finance operations and control across IELTS and student placement business

James Osho (he/him) describes how his childhood has moulded his value of empathy and his problem-solving skills. By combining both in work and life he has created trusting, caring and successful work relationships.

“I grew up in a lower-middle class family and environs. I was brought up by a single father between the age 6-14 years old, and after that I had a mother figure in my life. Growing up, we had to defend all our decisions. My father had to make hard decisions and gave us opportunity to make decisions and learn from them. I had to make a lot of decisions on my own and often I should have made better decisions. So now, being a manager, I am making people and organizational decisions.

Empathy is feeling what someone else is feeling. It’s making sense of them, with no judgement. It’s seeing things from their perspective and acknowledging their feelings. Sympathy brings judgement, empathy doesn’t.

When I’m working with other people who are not used to an empathetic approach, it allows them to calm things down, build loyalty and support, set a standard, share freely, give space to clear their head, and make friends. I value empathy and it is reciprocated with my family, siblings and other close contacts from work.

Empathy has helped shape my career, as has problem solving. Problems I faced in my childhood environment have helped form my problem-solving capability and my ability to reach a manager position. They have been key factors in my success. Applying wisdom and understanding problems from other’s perspectives, has been critical in managing older, more experienced, and often difficult people, as a younger manager through my career.

When I see a problem, I get hyperactive and ready to solve it. At school I loved mathematics, and now I apply that problem solving in real life. It’s an opportunity to pull people together, look for root cause, and avoid repeat problems. It’s really helpful to ask questions like what is the current standard, what has been violated, and break a big problem down to small problems and be specific, set targets, define measures and celebrate small but significant successes.

Now at IDP, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of setting up the Nigerian office, relating and managing people from different cultural backgrounds and situations. My proudest moment in the past 12 months was joining as the second staff in IDP Nigeria, managing the number of projects on, and setting up the finance structures, IT infrastructure and most importantly tasked with blending the global IDP culture with the new recruited staff. In addition, we had no dedicated IT person, so I took it as a problem to solve. With backing from my manager, I read up a lot and worked with the regional IT team. Everything went smoothly and I’m proud to say we have a solid IT infrastructure in our office!

Helping people is something that makes me happy and brings fulfilment. I look forward to each new day. I’m involved in a mentoring programme for university students that gets them ready for life experiences, university, and managing tough situations. It lets them see that they will have responsibility and freedom. We make mistakes to learn from them – they guide us and mould us. People come out of the programme as better people in a much better space. I love the community development aspect.

My advice to people is to talk about their feelings and how they feel. Don’t pass judgement or give advice. Advice should be sought after, not given unsolicited. When I’m seeing something from someone else’s perspective, I try to ignore my own emotions so they don’t take on my emotions, and so I can understand that person’s feelings. It shows love and understanding to the person. I also recommend breaking big problems into small chunks and working together to problem solve and to celebrate.”

Thank you, James, for your wisdom and calmness. There are some wonderful take aways to make us more conscious of our empathy and to be better problem solvers.