"Empathy is about standing in someone else's shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate, but it makes the world a better place."
--- Daniel H. Pink
Empathy is not sympathy, but it is typically associated with it. Empathy is simply putting yourself in the other person's shoes. It is trying to see things through the eyes of someone else. It is helpful for both parties involved. But unfortunately, it is not something often used for business purposes, but it should be. In business, we have to understand why a customer buys or doesn't buy, why an employee doesn't perform well, or why a vendor won't give us good terms.
When we can put ourselves in the other person's loafers, we can better understand why it is that they think the way they do. Though it doesn't always work that way, it is still a great practice. Particularly when we try to see things from the customer's eyes or the eyes of the employee, or through the eyes of even our competitors. Empathy, or trading minds, or trying to see things from another's perspective can help us provide what our particular segment of the market needs.
"Empathy is the faculty to resonate with the feelings of others. When we meet someone who is joyful, we smile. When we witness someone in pain, we suffer in resonance with his or her suffering."
--- Matthieu Ricard
There was a story years ago about an advertising executive who produced a commercial for a fuse that could outlast other fuses by ten years (this is back when homes used fuses). The ad executive made more money than the average person in those days. He decided that he could sell millions of these fuses by blanketing the masses with ads on television, radio, newspaper, and so on.
His advisors suggested that since these particular fuses cost 50 percent more than ordinary fuses that perhaps the ads should run in specialty magazines that went out to a segment of the population who could afford the new fuses. Instead, the ad executive wouldn't listen and spent a lot of money blasting the nation with ads for longer lasting fuses. After six weeks with little or no sales, the ad campaign was dropped.
"It's very difficult to design something for someone if you have no empathy."
--- Stewart Butterfield
The problem the ad executive had was that he created ads based on what he would buy. He made a larger salary than the average person and he figured that since he would buy the fuses and save money over the long haul on replacement fuses, everyone else would too. He didn't look at it from the view of the general public. He didn't realize that fuses weren't sexy, were not in great demand, and that the expense for the new fuses were not in the normal Joe's budget.
"It's got to do with putting yourself in other people's shoes and seeing how far you can come to truly understand them. I like the empathy that comes from acting."
--- Christian Bale
Empathy is usually considered what one tries to do when another is in pain or struggling in some way. If the word empathy has some deep-rooted traditional meaning, perhaps we should just suggest that as a business leader, we should practice trading minds with another person. In other words, strive to see the world from their point of view.
Doing so will not only help you to increase sales, it will help you in other important relationships with team members, family members, and the community. It is basically losing our typical selfish approach to work and life, stripping away our own biases and becoming the other person for a short time.
"While leaders spend considerable time and effort trying to envision markets and pushing out innovation, empathy can often generate simple, yet breakthrough ideas."
--- John Gerzema