In many cases one of the keys to moving forward as a team or as an individual in an organization is the willingness to have empathy in everything we do. In other words, being able to embrace the perspective of others: customers, colleagues, vendors, partners, etc. Having this cognitive empathy is perhaps one of the most overlooked qualities that one should prioritize when interviewing new talent, assessing leaders or managers, and evaluating organizations as a whole.
As someone who has worked and dealt with products for most of my career, being empathetic is critical to building the right products and solutions that will motivate customers to open up their wallets. Conversely, not being empathetic can be quite damaging to an organization’s top-line and, consequently, its overall reputation. This can be illustrated by delivering user experiences that are not designed with the customer in mind; developing applications that do not address end-user pain points; providing poor customer-service that can derail loyalty; or delivering services that do not improve how business gets done by organizations are all manifestations of a company not building products or services with the end-user in mind. This is why I believe that empathy is one of the fundamental building blocks to being an innovative organization.
The ramifications of empathy are quite extraordinary in product development and innovation but obviously it does not stop there. Having empathy starts with each and every one of us regardless of role, position, or title. If you are in marketing, being empathetic is all about advertising a product based on how your target segment buys. If you are in HR, being empathetic means treating a prospective employee as a person rather than just a piece of paper (i.e., a resume). If you are in customer service, it is all about listening to the end-user and thinking about what they are experiencing from their perspective as you try to troubleshoot their issue. Of course, just being empathetic does not mean that you will have all the answers but it is a prerequisite to being thoughtful and compassionate in our actions.
Practicing empathy certainly can tie into our roles but it also starts with just how we behave in our day to day lives. Here are just a few examples of ways we can all be more empathetic as leaders and individual contributors.
- Being attentive, through and through. For example, putting electronic devices away when you are in a meeting with someone regardless of level or title.
- When having a heated debate with a colleague, asking questions to seek understanding — and potentially common ground — before thinking about how you will react.
- If a team did not perform well on a project, despite performing at a high-level historically, letting them know what they did well first and then providing constructive feedback.
I believe we often get too caught up in company policies, government regulations, or what our competition is doing. I am not suggesting that we ignore these areas but if we use good judgement and common sense then our actions will lead us to be being authentically empathetic internally and externally no matter what role we have. If we do this consistently up and down and across an organization, then the obligations companies have to their shareholders may naturally bear fruit. It all ties to the Golden Rule that many of us know since our younger years: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”