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Why Empathy is Important in Business

Ever-changing technology forces us to shift the way we do things, because ‘easier’ and ‘faster’ have become the norm in business today. While finding new systems is undeniably valuable for the progression of your business, this process tends to neglect one of the core aspects that drives success: People.

Positive interpersonal engagement on all company levels, internal and external, is a tool that will lead to productivity and success. Using empathy as a starting point to build positive engagement drives productivity, by way of support. When managers or team leaders approach staff with open dialogue, understanding and a willingness to offer help, staff are more likely to respond with mutual willingness. Productivity stems from job satisfaction, support from others and a positive work culture.

In 1996, the Fetzer Institute supported the formation of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations. A business case study in 1999 found fascinating statistics demonstrating the positive impact emotional intelligence has on the bottom line of companies. On productivity, the study found the following:

“Optimism is another emotional competence that leads to increased productivity. New salesmen at Met Life who scored high on a test of “learned optimism” sold 37 percent more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists (Seligman, 1990).”

Another emotional competency thats helps to boost productivity is empathy. Empathy draws our attention away from the drive for individualism inherent in our culture and leads us to collaborate and to be more inclusive. The needs of customers have developed complexity through the sheer volume of services and products now available. In turn, business needs have developed complexity through service-heavy offerings, created to accommodate this high demand. Understanding what your customer wants and how you can give it to them is an exercise in compassion.

We are lucky enough to work with various healthcare and non-profit organisations who have always based core values on empathy and compassion. Driven to help others through strong leadership and guided productivity, they are constantly considering the position of the people who use their service. Often, the ‘help’ they offer is not the end goal. The end goal is a sense that they are offering strategies to improve lives. We believe this ethos does not need to be limited to caregiving organisations.

Seth Godin – author, marketer and entrepreneur – sees the value in using empathy as a marketing tool:

“Empathy is a hugely powerful marketing tool if we use it gently, being sure to leave lots of room for error. When we say, “oh, you did that to make a quick buck or you did that because you hate that guy or you did that because you’re a man…” we’ve closed the door to actually allowing people to write their own story and you make it difficult to learn what actually makes them tick.”

Seth makes an excellent point. Using emotional competencies as tools to boost productivity, sales and success works. But the subjectivity and unpredictability that results also has to be accepted. The upside of this? You may give your team the chance to come up with some of the most creative, unexpected and innovative solutions you’ve seen yet.