We’ve all seen the image of the ostrich. We all know the metaphor. Whether the story we’re telling is one of apathy or ignorance, rarely does the ending involve the prince and the wedding. The ostrich becomes illustrative of our moments of frustration, disappointment.

My purpose here is not to make the case for apathy; but rather it’s to argue that the head in the sand — at least for our species — may mean something different; something that serves us.

According to Neeru Paharia, a researcher and professor at Georgetown University, consumer behavior may have an important lesson to teach us. And it’s essentially this: consumers who have greater concern regarding the supply chain behind the products they are buying (i.e., working conditions, factory standards, etc.) are more likely not to ask questions about the supply chain. In other words, they’re more likely to bury their heads in the sand, but that head-burying is driven by empathy, not apathy.

And empathy, as we know, is all the rage today. So how can we use this information to harness it?

Now this isn’t to excuse apathy. We all have the responsibility to ask the the questions that inform our perspective. But sometimes just reattributing intention — turning presumed apathy into heartful empathy — can put us on a path to a better conversation.

So what does this mean at work? When our leadership seems to be putting its head in the sand, failing to solicit our input, maybe they are indeed apathetic. But maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re afraid of what they might hear. And maybe it becomes our responsibility — or at least our opportunity — to test the waters. And leaders – perhaps it’s your responsibility to observe your own behavior, and do a bit of self-reflection if you notice granules of sand stuck in your throat…

Not knowing the details of the supply chain doesn’t make our factories safe. And not asking our employees, our customers for input doesn’t make their ideas, their concerns irrelevant. It just leaves us willfully ignorant, and our products and services more susceptible to failure.

Let’s start having better conversations.