There is now little doubt that empathy – the ability to understand and share another person’s experiences, emotions and feelings – is a vital talent in business.
According to Entrepreneur.com, ‘Empathy in business dealings, especially for the entrepreneur, is vital to maintaining sustainable success. When an entrepreneur is in tune with the perspectives and needs of shareholders, investors, employees and customers, the business will be strengthened.’
Inc.com has an intriguing perspective. ‘If you do your homework before you go into a meeting and understand the motivations of the other participants, and empathize with them, the outcome of the meeting will be much more predictable.’
Jayson Boyers at Forbes.com agrees. ‘For business leaders to experience success, they need to not just see or hear the activity around them, but also relate to the people they serve.’
This general agreement on the importance of empathy hasn’t always been there. More than a hundred years ago, Henry Ford is quoted as having said, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” Well, that was a time when leadership was considered to be about command and control. But in today’s business world few will disagree that understanding other’s emotions and feelings is key to influencing them, or at least finding common ground.
But notice that I earlier described empathy as a talent, not a skill. The distinction is important. Our talents come from within us, they are natural and instinctive. Skills, however, are learned. Have you ever heard of anyone going on a training course to ‘learn empathy’?
Sure, you can learn how to make time to listen and ask others about their experiences. But if you don’t have empathy at all, you’re just going through the motions. And others will instinctively realise it. You won’t make a real connection with them.
But while empathy is almost impossible to learn – if you don’t have it at all – the good news is that most of us have at least some talent for empathy. It’s just a matter of how much.
Now here’s the big question. On a 1 to 10 scale, how much empathy do you have? If you’re not sure, your career and your business could be in jeopardy. If you score a 1, but you don’t know it, you are regularly failing to make connections with others and understand their needs. Almost always, that ends in failure. If you score a 5, you are more successful than some but less so than others. But you are probably always puzzled as to why you lack influence and fail to foresee outcomes correctly.
There is something you can do about it however.
The first thing you can do is find out how much empathy you have. A tool like Method Teaming® can discover this for you instantly. This knowledge alone will give you a great big ‘Ah ha’ moment. There is power in knowledge, even when it’s knowledge of a gap.
But the second thing you can do is far more important. You can find out how much empathy is naturally present in your team. Once you know who in your team is naturally gifted with empathy – and to what degree – you can harness the power of their empathy by asking them to be your empathetic ‘eyes and ears’. Since no-one possesses all the talents on the spectrum, you can continue to be the great leader you already are using the talents you do have, but you can ensure you no longer fall into bear traps by having a colleague cover off your ‘empathy gap’.
The third thing you can do is discover where your main talents can help to make someone else’s life more successful. No-one has the full deck. Share the talents and build a great team. That’s the secret of Method Teaming.