Why Empathy is the Fuel that Builds Business Relationships
“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” —Theodore Roosevelt
If the world could use more of something, empathy might very well be it. Whether it’s in the many types of relationships or the business niche, the ability to value what another person is feeling is priceless.
Empathy is defined as the ability to see and share what another person is feeling or experiencing. When you see your coworker crying because her boyfriend dumped her and you feel her pain, that’s empathy. When your neighbor is struggling to make ends meet and you feel an emotional instinct to help, that’s empathy.
Empathy, probably the most important emotional intelligence ability, must come first. Without an empathetic connection, trust is eroded.
Why is empathy important to business relationships?
Business people and leaders with empathy build better teams. When it comes to the key skills needed for successful leadership, empathy rarely makes the list. However, empathy allows people to build trust among one another. In fact, studies in business show that team members who show empathy toward others have more sales, better teams, and more productivity overall. To learn more about these studies, visit The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations.
According to Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of What Makes a Leader, published in the Harvard Business Review, "Leaders with empathy do more than sympathize with people around them: they use their knowledge to improve their companies in subtle, but important ways." Essentially, they take their team members’ thoughts and feelings into consideration when making decisions, which goes a long way.
Empathy breaks down walls and opens communication channels. When you can empathize with others, you tend to feel better about yourself. You’re more apt to extend a helping hand, which can boost self-esteem and give a sense of fulfillment. Additionally, empathy can help you become a better leader for your team because you will be able to… • Create a safe environment where people are allowed to be themselves • Better understand the root cause of an issue • Help others improve and excel
Can you cultivate empathy? Not everyone rates high on the empathy scale, so the question of whether or not empathy can be taught is a viable one. Can someone cultivate empathy? Absolutely. There are those who are born with an aptitude for empathy and compassion. For others, it doesn’t come naturally. So what can you do to increase empathy?
1. Focus on listening, not judging. You might think you listen, but do you REALLY listen? Are you really taking in what others are saying, or are you thinking about what you’re going to say and judging the situation? Start the connection by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and really taking in the person’s story.
2. Let others talk, and then repeat back. Do you interrupt people when they are talking? To increase empathy, let them say what they want to say. Don’t rush them. Don’t try to “fix it” or tell them what they need to do. Allow them to take their time, and encourage them to share the whole story. When they’re done, summarize and repeat back what they said. This will let the person know that they’ve been heard. Don’t just say, “I understand” or, “I get it.”
3. Be fully present. This means not stealing glances at your iPhone, looking at passersby, wondering what you’re going to eat for dinner, or wishing they would just stop talking already. To cultivate empathy, you must be willing to be mindful of the present moment with the person you are engaging with. When they are done talking, be fully present in your response as well.
Empathy is an emotional and thinking muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it. Try some of these suggestions and watch the reactions of your business partners, coworkers, family and friends. You’re likely to notice the positive results in no time.