Use empathy to improve your business

One of the 5 key elements of emotional intelligence, you can use empathy to improve your business.

It also makes you a better person, friend, worker and leader.

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Empathy has been recognised as an essential part of creating an exceptional customer experience.

You need to understand how interacting with your business makes your customers feel. And you need to work on making those feelings positive.

It doesn’t stop there!

Encouraging empathy across your business can help everyone, including you.

So what is empathy?

Empathy has its roots in compassion. It’s the recognition of ourselves in others.

Sympathy often gets confused with empathy. They both imply caring for someone. Sympathy is where you’re sorry that someone feels sad, lonely, angry and so on. Empathy goes further and you feel and understand the other person’s emotions.

Here’s a great explanation of the difference between the two by Brené Brown as an RSA short:

Both sympathy and empathy are vital for a sense of humanity – being able to understand other people and their problems.

Here’s a great fact – ’empathy’ as a word was created in 1909 by a British psychologist called Edward B. Titchener. He used the ancient Greek ’empátheia’ meaning ‘passion’ to create a word to translate the German ‘einfühlungsvermögen’ and its concept of shared feeling.

Since then, 3 different forms of empathy have been recognised:

Affective empathy – you share other people’s emotions, so if a friend is crying on your shoulder you also shed a few tears with them.

Cognitive empathy – you understand other people’s emotions, so you can rationally see why and how they feel this way, but you’re not feeling the emotions with them.

Emotional regulation – you can control your emotions.

Empathy is not about imitating or mimicking other people’s emotions. It’s a genuine reaction to those around us.

We don’t always feel empathy for others

Whilst there are some people who never or seldom experience empathy for others, the rest of us won’t now and again. There’s several reasons why:

Blame – we blame the person for their circumstances. They must have done something to bring this on themselves. We inherently believe the world is fair and people get what they deserve.

Cognitive bias – how we perceive the world around us. It’s hard to see all the factors that contribute to a situation – both internal and external. Sometimes we struggle to see a situation from someone else’s point of view because of how we see the world.

Dehumanisation – we can’t see ourselves in others and have lost that link with them. We see them as different to us, physically or in the way they behave. Or it could be that they’re far away from us. We create differences and are then less likely to empathise than if we’d looked for similarities.
This can happen in business when customers aren’t seen as people but as sources of revenue, are inconvenient and waste the time of staff preventing them from doing their ‘real’ jobs!
Or when employees don’t work the same long hours as a business owner, leaving the owner incredulous because they’re only seeing their staff as resources not as people with lives outside of work.

You can encourage empathy

If you’re worried that you or those you work with aren’t connecting well enough with each other or with your customers, there are several things you can do to rouse empathy.

Foster curiosity – spend time talking to customers, listening to calls, look for insights about your customers and use them creatively to problem solve or devise new solutions, talk about what’s being learnt to get the opinions of those you work with.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – be someone else for a day, find out what it’s like to be them, what really happens, what that’s like, what it feels like, to deepen your understanding and empathy. Then use what you’ve learnt.

Take ownership of a problem or complaint – see it through to a satisfactory end, experience how easy or complicated it is to get it sorted out, what you need to do, who you talk with, what systems are involved, what pain points you come across. Document what you did in case it happens again before it’s prevented from occurring again. Then work on how it can be prevented.

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Why you should use empathy to improve your business

Empathy enables you to feel and understand another person’s emotions. It helps you understand other people and their problems.

If you want to improve your customer experience, you need to understand your customers. And your team. You need to understand how dealing with your business makes people feel.

Once you know and understand that you can apply those insights to every aspect of your business, from staff training to developing new products and services.

You’ll be able to anticipate a customer’s needs and desires, so that you can take care of them before they hit a ‘pain point’ in their customer journey. It’s empathy that enables you to build brand loyalty and real relationships with your customers – and team.

How using empathy can improve your business – and your life

Better understand the needs of those around you whether they’re colleagues, friends, customers or family; if you know what they need you can help them.

See clearly how you affect others for better or worse and amend your behaviour if necessary.

Understand body language and use that knowledge to improve the situation.

Better placed to deal with conflict between others, find resolutions and reduce negative feelings, useful for productive team work.

Creative design thinking using your understanding to develop more efficient and effective products and services for your customers.

Motivate the people around you using your understanding of them, their goals and emotional drivers to inspire and increase productivity.

Develop influencing skills by listening to others and caring about what they’re saying, so they’re more likely to listen to you.

Predict what others will do because you understand their feelings and motivations so you can improve your customer experience.

Incorporate different perspectives into your thinking for better big picture thinking, brainstorming, planning and design.

Be a better leader by using empathy to demonstrate that you care and understand.

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