Having been asked to give a psychologists perspective of empathy at a business event last year, I started to think a lot about something I realised I had taken for granted until then. I realised that the topic of empathy is encroaching on the business world and yet there are many people who don’t take time to be empathic and/or don’t know how to be empathic with colleagues and clients. I think this will take a number of blog posts to discuss in detail but for now think about your own and your colleagues ability to empathise. Do you really understand what empathy is?
A formal definition of Empathy is the ability to identify and understand another’s situation, feelings and motives. It’s our capacity to recognize the concerns other people have. Empathy means: “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” or “seeing things through someone else’s eyes”.
There are now numerous studies that link empathy to business results, making it no longer a touchy feely topic to discuss in business. At its core, empathy is the oil that keeps relationships running smoothly. Studies correlate empathy with increased sales, with the performance of the best managers of product development teams and with enhanced performance in an increasingly diverse workforce. When it comes to staff training and client retention or customer service training courses, an understanding and development of empathy is imperative. Studies can be viewed here (http://www.eiconsortium.org/).
Empathy allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and informs our decisions.
Bestselling author, Daniel Pink (A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age) predicts that power will reside with those who have strong right-brain (interpersonal) qualities such as inventiveness, empathy, and meaning. He cites three forces that are causing this change: Abundance, Asia and Automation. “Abundance” refers to our increasing demand for products or services that are aesthetically pleasing; “Asia” refers to the growing trend of outsourcing; “Automation” is self-explanatory. In order to compete in the new economy market, Pink suggests six areas that are vital to our success. One of which is Empathy; the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position, to imagine what they are feeling, to understand what makes people tick, to create relationships and to be caring of others: All of which is very difficult to outsource or automate, and yet is increasingly important to business.
Dr. Daniel Goleman isolates three reasons why empathy is so important in business today: the increasing use of teams, (which he refers to as “cauldrons of bubbling emotions”), the rapid pace of globalization (with cross cultural communication easily leading to misunderstandings) and the growing need to retain talent. “Leaders with empathy,” states Goleman, “do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways.” This doesn’t mean that they agree with everyone’s view or try to please everybody. Rather, they “thoughtfully consider employees’ feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making intelligent decisions.”
We recently developed some trademarked processes which we use in our staff training and in particular our customer service training courses take “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” to a whole new level. Let’s have a chat to see how you and your team can work out who’s shoe it is anyway!!.