There is only one way to demonstrate empathy…

This article caught my eye this week.  The author examines many of the job roles that will experience growth in the coming years and argues that the in-demand skill common among them is empathy.

I agree with his premise- that “people skills” are as in demand as ever, across a multitude of professions.  However I think he paints with too broad a brush when it comes to what empathy actually is. Empathy is the capacity to recognize the emotions experienced by another person. Truly there is only one way to demonstrate empathy- you have to give voice to it.  To effectively demonstrate empathy to another person- that you recognize they are experiencing xyz emotion(s)-  it has to be acknowledged through comment: “If that happened to me Mr. Jones, I’d be frustrated too.”  or “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or scared.”  That’s not to say that body language, non-verbals, or physical gestures of compassion don’t, in their own way, convey some level of empathy.  But they all assume that the receiver, your customer, will both recognize and experience those behaviors that way. And that’s not always the case.

This is why when I do training on service engagement I stress how important it is to vocalize empathy. Only by giving voice to our compassion do we unequivocally demonstrate empathy to another person. Leaders need to coach their teams to do this daily- to tune in to the emotions their customers may be experiencing and to verbally acknowledge and validate them. This is a skill that can be taught through feedback, coaching, observation and role play.

Some of what Mr. Anders advocates for goes beyond empathy. The “magic of a face to face interaction with someone who cares” also has a lot to do with energy and affect. But energy and affect are inherently influenced by empathy. We’ve long chalked up empathy as something that only certain people come by naturally.  While this may be true it doesn’t mean that it can’t be instilled and developed.  In fact it needs to be because it forms the foundation of an energy and affect needed to deliver an outstanding customer experience.  

The single most influential factor for customers in most any industry is the quality of one-on-one interactions they have with each person across your enterprise.  The degree to which they experience that someone cares about them and their overall experience is what matters most. That’s about the energy your people bring to that interaction, how their affect demonstrates that caring, and foundationally the empathy that motivates both.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your comments, thoughts, and ruminations…

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One thought on “There is only one way to demonstrate empathy…

  1. Pingback: Empathy | The way I Run my life

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