The Power of Empathy in Business

“I hate small talk. I wanna talk about atoms, death, aliens, magic, intellect, the meaning of life, faraway galaxies, the lies you’ve told, your flaws, your favorite scents, your childhood, what keeps you up at night, your insecurities and fears… I like people with depth, who speak with emotion from a twisted mind. I don’t want to know ‘what’s up’”.

Sometimes the internet has some really smart viral content and the previous quote is a good example. It has helped me to nurture my people skills wherever I go and whatever I do. It has helped me communicate in a way that feels true and caring.

The way I see it, it’s a simple precept… in business and in life- when a person/client sees that I am truly interested in them… and that by telling their stories, I will be able to relate to them… a great partnership is possible. This leads me to the topic at hand….. empathy, how it benefits the phases of a product design and, of course, your business.

The Chambers English Dictionary defines empathy as “The power of entering into another’s personality and imaginatively experiencing his experiences”.

The keyword is power. This is about hearing someone else’s story and understanding where they come from, what they’ve learned, and of course their struggles. With this information, we can satisfy their needs and provide what they want.


Try this: create a list of questions you would like to ask and learn about a random person (it doesn’t have to be a stranger). Listen to what he/she answers and after you’re done with your questions, review what you’ve learned. Were you able to say to yourself “now I get it”? If you did, you’ve started building empathy. If you didn’t, it doesn’t hurt to go more in depth. Keep reading to learn how.


What are some benefits of empathy?

  • Humanizes focus and behavior.
  • Builds respect, better relationships, and positive reputation.
  • Helps reduce social stress and helps you be more creative when approaching people.
  • Avoids prejudice, biased opinions or intolerance towards others.
  • Develops listening skills and nonverbal communication.
  • Helps you to act appropriately to others’ needs and concerns.
  • Lets you walk the walk with anyone when you’re trying to solve a problem for them.
  • Nurtures your research skills by creating better client and user descriptions.
  • And finally, helps you focus on the goodness in people, while putting the bad in perspective.

Empathy in Business

Let’s talk about a person as a consumer. Every business offers products and services to fill a need. Each area involved in the process is focused on different but correlated tasks. For design, this is about human-centered focus, ergonomics, and likeability. For development, is about functionalities, quality, and availability. For logistics is about location, selling points, and distribution. For marketing, is about content, promotion, and creating desire. For human resources, is about business culture and engagement, encouraged with key habits for the organization.

So let’s think about the process of creating or improving a product. The key to achieve this is the level of involvement and commitment from everyone in the business to practice empathy with every stakeholder and help them belong; ‘inclusion to create solutions’.

Steps to Build Empathy in Business

  1. Start with Design Thinking. It’s a mindset for designers to create products with a human-centered focus. Design and marketing share these concepts. We know about buyer personas and their buyer’s journey. Design thinking helps us map, through empathy maps, a consumer’s pain points and pain relievers while deciding on what to purchase. A useful tool to start with is to utilise user research.
  2. Draw an empathy path. We’ve come a long way from products manufactured on a massive scale to tailored custom designed products. If you want to keep interest and satisfy your customers, start with empathy. Make sure that you’re approaching them as if you are one of them. Draw 2 lines: thoughts and the other decision making. The first is focused on what your customer needs. The second one, about how will they decide to fulfill them.
  3. Test. On an experiment ran by Matthew Turpault, they tested 2 approaches for manufacturing a new battery. One focused on design for functionality,; the other on user experience. After analyzing the pros and cons of these approaches, they learned that both were unsuccessful. Manufacturers were unwilling to build in the extra complexity with extra cost (obviously). And users were understandably unwilling to take that extra step. So, what happened? What was missing? Empathy on both sides!

Are you aware of your empathic abilities?

Here are 7 clever practices to develop empathy:

1. Abandon Your Ego

It is common, at home and in the workplace, to adopt an egocentric view of things and be rigid in our thoughts and beliefs. However, in order to empathise deeply, we need to tame and put aside our egos. You do this by understanding and experiencing the feelings of others.

2. Adopt Humility

When we adopt humility, we naturally improve our ability to empathise, we elevate the value of others above ourselves. Humility is a characteristic of design-focused leaders who are willing to admit their own shortcomings, as well as to abandon preconceived ideas for the good of the overall vision and goals. Again, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

3. Be a Good Listener

Listen and listen attentively. Block out your inner conflicting voice and allow other’s to resonate. It’s a way of autocontrol on our natural tendency to formulate our own opinions and voice them before the other person has finished talking. You’ll uncover a deeper meaning and experience for your consumers.

4. Hone Your Observation Skills

Listening is just the beginning. Before taking action you need to learn how to react. The power of observation allows you to read behaviors, subtle indications, non-verbal expressions, body language, and environments. Remember an old school concept named The Scientific Method? Observation is key to building data and seeing if your hypothesis (developed while listening to others) is headed in the right direction.

For Human Resources, this practice is commonly used during interviews. The recruiter can analyze what a candidate is telling by the way he behaves during the interview, He will fill in the gaps that can’t be fully understood by listening to what the candidate says.

5. Care

You want to resonate and stay true when trying to build empathy. Then, care. A genuine concern is required to lead your desire to act and assist. This allows to overcome your own needs and wants (abandon ego) and seek to relate to others. When you care, you build a deep concern and desire to help, nurture, and provide assistance. This requires a level of emotional insight.

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Careful: it’s emotional, not sentimental. The difference here is that one leads to empathy, and the other one to sympathy. Sympathy happens when you’re feeling sorry ‘for’ someone, rather than feeling ‘with’ them. Don’t get confused!

It’s important to highlight that this is an important practice. The lack of care you show drives you to the opposite of empathy. I’m talking about apathy or most commonly known nowadays as indifference. You don’t want your brand values to reflect such behaviour.

Learn how LEGO showed empathy for the environment and had to take the difficult decision to end its partnership with Shell.

6. Be Curious

It’s time to learn what motivates people. By being curious, we are naturally inclined to dig into unexpected areas, uncover new insights, and explore all aspects of a person’s life. At a glance, these details might seem unimportant, but they will expose the most important information we need for problem solving.

Remember my heading quote? This is why I hate small talk. It’s too limited. Feel encouraged to learn more about others.

7. Be Sincere

“Nothing kills empathy more than a lack of sincerity.” When we approach people with a superficial agenda, superiority complex, or any mindset that may undermine our sincere intention to understand their experience deeply, we are placing a barrier between us and those we seek to understand. Instead, we should realise that we stand to benefit more out of deeply understanding them. After all, the solution exists to serve their needs.

One is accountable for what one says against how one acts if one doesn’t stay true.

Leveraging empathy practices for a business organization

Not feeling the power yet? According to Chris Baer and Andrew Smith, the outcome of creating empathic products is a time tested solution. Here are their findings performed in several areas-

Business:

  • Resets the vision and mission of a company and supporting organizations.

Operations:

  • Improves the annual budgeting process across geographies.
  • Develops new ways for operational teams to do more with less.
  • Activates executive meetings and solve key business challenges.
  • Engages cross-functional teams to solve nagging business challenges.

Design:

  • Designs and launches new consumer brands and mobile interfaces.
  • Conducts interviews with empathy for user research.

Marketing:

  • Improves buyer personas profiles and journeys with in depth research.
  • Infuses existing brands with key innovations to drive relevance.
  • Provides lead development with empathic content, that specifically taps into the feelings of the consumers.

Misconceptions of Empathy

  • People become afraid when tapping into negative emotions with their content, but the truth is that we’re trying to connect with consumer’s emotions, making them feel included in the storytelling. Nonetheless, the stories should always end on a high note.
  • Empathy is not always used for the right cause. The lesson here is that it works, even if it’s for individual gain or profit. Once again, it’s about connecting with people. As an example, to put this into context, empathy is used as a powerful tool for politics (in general).

Conclusion

So, in the end is all about relationships and human behavior. Products built on empathy tend to be a game changer for consumers because we actually care about who they are, what they feel and they what they want. Empower everyone involved in the product designing process with a human touch thanks to empathy. Simply put, it’s about making life easier and having trust that your products/services will truly benefit them.

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