When you look around these days, it’s easy to feel a little alarmed by the state of interpersonal relations. Whether at work or in our personal lives, it’s just not easy to get along with everyone. Whatever the cause, it seems many of us are having an increasingly difficult time communicating well with each other, and it often seems that a lack of empathy is one of the reasons behind that problem.
Empathy is the art and skill of putting yourself in another’s shoes, even when doing so results in a completely different perspective. While it might seem somewhat “touchy-feely,” it’s still an imperative leadership skill for managers and entrepreneurs. Here are five simple reasons why.
1. You can’t lead employees without empathy.
Out of the 8,760 hours in a calendar year, most of your full-time workers spend around 2,000 of them on the job. That means fully three-quarters of their experiences and lives are lived outside the context of your company, the one thing you share in common with them.
Consequently, your understanding of them — as people or as employees — may most likely be based on just one part of their personalities, beliefs, and behaviors. This isn’t always a complete or objective picture.
It’s quite difficult to motivate people effectively if you cannot or do not understand their motivations and fears.
2. You can’t inspire confidence in investors without understanding their fears.
What’s true of your workforce is likewise true of your business partners. Investors and shareholders are typically all too happy to let business leaders do the leading, but only as long as those leaders are actually getting results.
Have your investors, board members or shareholders ever lost confidence in your leadership skills? If this happens, it’s not easy to reverse that trend. In fact, it’s almost impossible to reassure them unless you fully understand their concerns and the fears that underlie those concerns.
That’s where empathy comes in. Empathy alone won’t turn the tide of a loss of investor confidence, of course, but it’s a crucial first step. It means you can see the situation from their perspective, and make changes or chart courses that can alleviate investor concerns. Empathy becomes an underpinning of your strategy going forward.
3. You can’t effectively reach customers and clients if you don’t grasp their needs.
Most marketing professionals will tell you that the secret to effectively persuading prospective customers to make a purchase from your brand is to get to know your prospects intimately. Smart business marketers know this; that’s why they spend time and energy drawing up detailed customer profiles or user avatars to help give direction and voice to their marketing plans.
Of course, intellectually understanding the general demographics of your target audience is just the first step. You must also understand how they feel, what they’re scared of, what they cherish, what they love — in short, you must empathize with them.
Once you’ve achieved that level of affinity with your market, you can then design digital and offline campaigns that will more effectively connect with and persuade your prospective customers to become actual ones.
4. You make better decisions using empathy as a tool.
It’s helpful to understand someone else’s perspective more fully. This includes the emotional factors that may be driving their behavior. It helps you make better decisions, as long as you use it as one tool among many.
Believe it or not, even empathy has triggered a backlash of sorts. Some studies point out its limitations and drawbacks, but these tend to look at empathy in a very limited way.
Empathy is a tool, not a singular, discrete strategy. It’s best used along with critical and rational thinking skills and decision-making paradigms. Your decisions ultimately are supported by a fuller picture of the choice and how it will impact all involved.
5. You can’t change the world (or even your office culture) without empathy.
Many entrepreneurs these days feel a strong sense of mission. It often goes beyond bringing their products and services to the world. It often involves a real sense of duty to make the world better. No longer content only to seek more profit, these entrepreneurs feel obliged to contribute to social and political justice.
Maybe doing your part to change the world for the better is on your agenda. If so, it’s important to use empathy to make sure your actions are serving that purpose. Empathy helps drive and empower social change. Recognizing that there’s more that unites us than divides us is a first step. When we understand the context of the lives of people we want to help, we make better choices in how to best support them.
Empathy isn’t a finite resource. You can strengthen yours by exercising it at any time, just as you do your body’s muscles. Empathy can also be enhanced through mindfulness training and even through intentional listening. Experts believe there are multiple avenues for reshaping and retraining your brain’s neural network to increase empathetic thinking. Doing so will help to increase your success in business as well as in your personal life.