3 Ways Empathy Helps You Lead and Learn in Business
We’ve all worked with next-level employers and employees. These are people that excel, inspire and work hard to out-perform themselves. They constantly want to get better and live by a can’t stop, won’t stop attitude. Professional development is their game, and they seem to also have everything together - both at home and in their social life. They are socially attractive people and others gravitate toward them. Regardless of their enneagram number or whether they are introverted or extroverted, they are good with people and highly valued.
These super humans exist all around us, but unfortunately so do their antithesis. Ever think about what sets them apart from the toxic, negative, emotional crazy person next to you? Why can’t that guy seem to retain his employees and live with the same sense of purpose as the out-performer?
Simple. Apart from their natural talents and knowledge, out-performers seem to:
A) Have a deeply intrinsic sense of their value and self-worth and
B) Possess the soft skill of empathy. Balanced and pure empathy.
I wish we could fully cover A because it’s so important for us to understand. But for our purposes today, we’ll cover empathy in this blog.
Let’s start at the definition...
: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
also : the capacity for this”
According to Mind Tools, there are three stages of empathy:
1. Cognitive empathy - sensing the emotional state of another
2. Emotional empathy - stepping into their state and sharing similar feelings
3. Compassionate empathy - actively working through those feelings with them at their pace
Empathy goes just one or two short steps further past sympathy - into closer, deeper waters. In business communications this might look like simply helping and paying attention to your fellow employees feelings like you would a good friend. You’re not boundary-less with them. Instead, you understand their complaints. You consider their questions separate from your own objectives and experience.
In that sense, your ability to contemplate their struggle as if it were your own helps you relate. You’ve understood them better than a non-empathic, emotional robot would. This emotional robot is someone who doesn’t understand their feelings so they push them to the side or bury them. That person might be a controlled person in the right situations, yet they might be a source of toxicity at work.
When you embrace empathy to relate with an employee or colleague, you’re saying they matter.
Their experience and feelings while different are just as valuable as yours. And that frees them to also feel heard - even trusted and valued. And isn’t that what we all want to sense at work?
Enough about understanding another person’s emotions - something successful business leaders do in general. Let’s consider the reasons why empathy in business matters. Just like the title says, we’ll go over three reasons why empathy skills in the work place are essential.
1. BETTER LEAD CALLS → MORE SALES
Customer service representatives are not the only one who need to display empathy. Salespeople, it’s your time to shine. “To sell effectively in the U.S. market of today, a salesman needs to have empathy. To sell effectively in the foreign market, crossing cultural lines, requires even more empathy (HBR 2006).”
In a study by Rutgers University, “6) In a national insurance company, insurance sales agents who were weak in emotional competencies such as self-confidence, initiative, and empathy sold policies with an average premium of $54,000. Those who were very strong in at least 5 of 8 key emotional competencies sold policies worth $114,000 (Hay/McBer Research and Innovation Group, 1997).”
Do you want to have better lead calls that result in increased sales? Great! Be empathic. When you’re able to adjust your tone and change your pace according to what the person on the other line is doing, you’re halfway there.
Under the StoryBrand principals we learn people are most motivated to buy products that solve their internal problems. Understanding your customers needs is paramount here. They want a physical service or product that helps them feel better (i.e. less stressed, more productive, healthier, etc). The StoryBrand concepts see potential customers as people with felt desires and needs.
To help people get where they want to go, we first listen to them. We seek to empathize in their stress or lack of knowledge and then frame our product as a problem solver. Even if we don’t sell them our most involved package, we’ve helped them. We got them to feel better just by relating with them. And even if they feel better for only a brief moment during the call, that’s still a win.
It’s been proven time and again, not just by your people, but by science, y’all. Empathy skills will help you sell!!!
Motivate yourself and you’ll sell even more. Here’s a great blog with tips from Evan with Tips on How to Stay Motivated.
2. WORK IS MORE ENJOYABLE
Good teams know how strongly empathy can affect a company’s culture. They know that “empathizing is an essential trait for preventing and resolving conflicts at work (CIPHR)”. We don’t want to constantly have non-empathic encounters at work. We want to have a pleasant time working and have decent colleague/ associate encounters.
When work environments are driven by empathy we’re able to get along with others better. We’re able to separate ourselves from conflict and stop turning to blame games; we might even enjoy work again. I’ll say it differently. Workplaces where empathy is made paramount get better results and experience less turn over (Page 4 - BusinessSolver 2019).
Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership believe that “empathetic leaders are assets to organizations, in part, because they are able to effectively build and maintain relationships. And building strong relationships is a critical part of leading organizations anywhere in the world”. Let’s go a bit more in-depth on that topic…
COLLEAGUE & MANAGER RELATIONSHIPS
It’s probably no surprise that “82% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization” (BusinessSolver 2019 ). (82%?! THAT’S SO HIGH!)
Have you stopped to think recently about your team members in a positive light? Sometimes we get inundated by a lack of empathy and emotional intelligence in the workplace we forget that the cubicle next to us has a living, breathing person in it.
Often, we don’t see empathy as a soft skill that can be bettered. Instead, empathy is seen as a personality trait that only certain people have. In the Harvard Business Review, Jamil Zaki writes, “the first step towards building empathy is acknowledging that it can be built.” What he’s getting is that when companies embrace empathy as a skill rather than just a trait, an entire company’s culture can change. That’s a really impressive idea to me.
We have to start understanding that to be empathic is just like any other professional ability. To be peaceful; to be calm under pressure; to see people as people with thoughts, feels and emotions separate from our own - these are all similar skills. They are soft skills that we are able to change and adjust internally. The commenters in Slack writing tasks and giving updates are humans with real life issues. They come with hopes, plans, circumstances, etc.
Everything that makes up our humanity is a culturally different yet shared, emotionally similar experience. If we care about our fellow employees, we should operate in that reality.
If you feel like you are the only person in your office that gets that, you’re probably not alone. “58 percent of CEOs reported difficulties in consistently exemplifying empathy in their daily work life, a 13-point increase from 2018 (BusinessSolver 2019).” The increase there is uplifting, but the overall percentage is rough. I mean, if that’s the percentage for CEOs, imagine how hard empathy would be for your teammates and boss. There is hope though: If your CEO does do a good job of displaying empathy, it’s probably going to trickle down.
Something else - An empathic person will like their employees more and stop giving on their boss so quickly. That’s because they don’t hop to conclusions based on their own experience. When something goes wrong at work or a relational conflict emerges, an empathic person doesn’t react based on emotion. They take time to navigate their feelings, embracing a relational obstacle like any other workplace challenge. The hindrance of a hard encounter with someone doesn’t hold them back. Instead, it motivates them forward. Winners like this tend to tackle the problem with savvy wits and likable qualities. These types of workers are able to boost productivity in themselves and others.
Honestly, who doesn’t like a person that can step outside of their own narrative into the life of another on a moments notice?
You can easily put someone else’s feelings above your own in a situation where you are truly paying attention and listening instead of speaking. My 10th grade English teacher shared a quote that I’ll never forget: Some people wait to talk, others wait to listen.
Are you waiting to jump in and assign your feelings and emotions to someone else’s work experience. Or are you asking how their experience made them feel. At the end of the day, people want to know and be known. Are you helping them be known by wanting to learn about them? Suffice it to say, if we really want to be empathetic at work, we’ll be better listeners. We’ll plan want to say to others based on their emotional cues, not ours alone.
Want to start generating a culture of empathy in your workplace? Start by asking how the families of your employees, colleagues and/or employers are doing. Ask what they do for fun outside of work. Build a relationship. Even with tough and toxic people, you can find a middle ground. It might be hard at first, but empathizing with people and understanding their value will help your relationships. Empathy WILL make you a better leader, helping you win at work.
You can develop empathy when you’re able to relate with your teammates and subordinates better. Want to learn the secret thoughts of employees? Read this blog, Dear Boss: 5 Things Your Employees Wish You Knew.
3. RECOVER FROM CLIENT PITFALLS FASTER
Navigating what your client(s) want is tricky, risky business. Especially in corporate work environments where technology and creativity collide, you run into business relationship hazards left and right.. Producing video, for example, means you have to find an outcome that works for everyone involved, and that can be a lot. WOW, it’s complicated stuff. In many situations, when it comes to projects and project management, everybody wants something different.
On top of that, what your client(s) want doesn’t always align and/or work perfectly in real-life situations. So, you have to work to find common ground and resolve opinion difference before even getting started. Can you imagine doing this without empathy?
You probably can. Situations like this - both with positive and negative outcomes - happen all the time.
Empathic Client Example
You’re almost done with the pre-production stage of a project when you get a call from your client and subsequent powers that be. After what’s turned into months of planning, they’re now requesting changes to the plan. And they do this in an empathic way. Therefore, you find yourself thinking, Dang, that stinks, but those changes are needed for a reason.
Those are good days with good clients. They know how hard you work, value your time and explain the needed changes effectively. In essence, they’ve given you the time of day and didn’t let their stress impact you. At the end of the day, you’re still getting paid to work for them, so you can put on a happy face regardless. But you’re just happy this client isn’t an insane psychopath who can’t communicate well under pressure.
Over the phone, they realized and explained that they are frustrated for you because you’re work so far is null and void. They thank you for time, and promptly cut your check for the past month of work. They even reminded you of your new due date and next pay date. IT’S AMAZING. You’re astounded. There’s angle choirs in the background.
In this particular situation empathy in the workplace actually lead to a peaceful, non-hostile encounter on both sides. This is the healthiest work environment you’ve ever had. And guess what? Because you took their empathic approach to heart and didn’t respond in anger, they noticed that you too are an employee/ contractor worth their weight in gold. You are good for business and they decide to keep you around and/or refer you to others.
Un-empathic Client example
Other times it’s the opposite. Your client calls demanding changes angrily for goodness knows what reason. You respond in fake obedience, letting your blood boil while over the phone you say, “No problem. Sure, anything you need.”
There’s a trace of bitterness in your voice as you try to mask what is really going on.
You’re disappointed and mostly, feeling undervalued. Their stress has gotten the better of you and you let yourself pick up their stress.
You could’ve separated yourself from their stress, but how could you? In this case, you couldn’t get past the negativity. So, you hung up without saying what you should have. Namely, “You sound stressed, Mrs. Client X. Are you feeling stressed or am I off base?”
The real questions is this: whether in positive or negative boss-client situations, are you going to respond in empathy or apathy?
Empathy in the workplace means regardless of the situation, you’re able to see past people’s initial feedback. You step inside their shoes and feel with them to achieve a better understanding of the situation objectively.
Want to get great client reviews, but don’t how? Read this blog to learn more: How to get Amazing Testimonials.
Possessing the soft skill of empathy in the workplace is absolutely pivotal. When you allow yourself to feel with others, you’ll be a better follower, team player, and most importantly, a better business leader. You’ll naturally inspire people and attract clients and potential customers to you. Your conversion rates will be higher. And you’ll overcome client challenges faster.
At Caffeine, we really care about people and implement empathy to drive our team and our business.
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