August 2019: Earlier this year Radio 4 ran a programme about empathy, using extracts from high profile speakers such as Barack Obama who coined the phrase ‘empathy deficit’ and Apple’s Tim Cook who said “People will try to convince you that you should keep empathy out of your career. Don’t accept this false premise.”
A study conducted in the previous year revealed that most employees rate their CEO’s empathy as poor but there is evidence to suggest that if a business understands its emotional impact on others and makes changes as a result, it will correlate to growth, productivity, and earnings per employee.
If you want to see how empathetic your business is, start by assessing the company culture, ethics, diversity, CEO performance, scandals, carbon emissions, and messages on social media. What do your employees think? How would they describe the business to their family and friends?
Empathy helps with management, increased collaboration and extended engagement by helping to understand the other person’s perspective. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can make it easier to find a compromise between two points of view. Similarly, thinking about how other people might like to be treated at work can make them more productive.
Many businesses use punishment and negative consequences, so employees behave in a particular way out of fear. By creating a positive environment which shows appreciation through benefits, coaching and development, incentives and genuine rewards, staff are much more likely to become better ambassadors for the business.
Empathy can help improve customer service. By understanding your customer’s experience with your brand, you can start to see how you can make improvements. Just as importantly how a customer is treated when things go wrong has an impact on whether or not the person continues to be your customer.
How to have more empathy
So how do you develop what has been called by Forbes magazine as the top soft skill? Bruna Martinuzzi suggests listening and talking, in her book, The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow:
“Listen to people—not just their words but also observe their facial expressions and body language—without interrupting. And while you’re listening, pay attention—don’t use your phone or look at your watch.
Talk to people. Ask them about their interests, pay attention to what they’re doing and praise them for what they’re doing well, and encourage them to speak up with their own ideas.”
Empathy in your PR
All good communicators are likely to have high levels of empathy so your PR team can be especially helpful, and any sensible PR strategy should be demonstrating that your brand understands your customers’ experience. We know that people engage with stories more than facts and that they make purchases based on how that product makes them feel. By understanding the mindset of your audience and the underlying emotions that trigger your customers your communications will be better received and will engage in a more authentic way.
It is worth finishing with a reminder that understanding others does not mean agreeing with them all the time but a genuine interest and appreciation will help you make better-informed decisions.