I’ve seen a couple of blog posts recently about the need to restore empathy.
First, was Arianna Huffington’s piece in Fast Company on “The Rise of Empathy in America” and the other was Joe Gerstandt’s article titled “Bringing Empathy Back”. Both talk about the need for empathy – a thought I totally agree with.
When I conduct training sessions, empathy comes up a lot. And it’s very easy to have a discussion about the definition of empathy. As a general rule, people can tell you the difference between empathy and sympathy without too much difficultly.
Then comes the hard part. It’s tough to take the conversation and turn it into practice. We can talk about empathy but how many of us can really demonstrate it?
Honestly, it’s not as easy as it looks. Let me use an example I’ve dealt with.
I’ll go to a professional association meeting where people will start complaining about consultants. Not a specific consultant. But all consultants. It’s obvious that some rotten consultant has spoiled it for everyone. I get it. But I’m not sure I feel their pain while I’m listening to their consultant bashing session. Nor do I think the people doing the bashing are considering my feelings while I’m sitting there.
I’m not suggesting here that people shouldn’t have the ability to express their frustration. The point is when you can do it with empathy that really makes a difference. Using my example above, I’ve been in similar situations where someone says to me “Ya know Sharlyn, it must be painful to hear people talking trash about your profession.” And my response is “Yes, it’s even more painful to hear how frustrated you guys are. It’s not supposed to be like that.”
And there are plenty of similar examples in any given workplace. Go ahead and ask your employees about empathy. When I ask, the overwhelming response is “I don’t get it – why do I have to show empathy? I just need to answer their question or fix their problem.”
If organizations want employees to start solving their own problems and fixing customer issues, employees will need to learn empathy. Because if you can’t understand what the customer is feeling, how can you really fix their problems? Or frankly, if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of your customer – how will the company create new products and services that the customer really wants?
There’s lots of talk these days about big data and predictive analytics, but I’m not sure that everything can be processed using numbers. And while technology is fabulous and gives us a reach we never could have imagined, it doesn’t replace dealing with people.
Without empathy, companies will need to have lots of managers to answer every question and draw very complicated flow diagrams to cover every scenario. Bottom Line: We have to find some way for individuals to learn empathy and use it on a regular basis.
Image courtesy of Nancy Newell [Simutis]