“The Art of Empathy”

Over the years I’ve been involved in many projects, professionally and personally. Some have been successful and some … not so much. A friend of mine, Yvette Dubel, posed a question to me in reference to an eBook she’s writing. What piece of advice would I share to current and future business leaders? What’s the one thing I could take from my experiences, my successes and failures, that would benefit others.

Empathy

After thinking about it, one thing keeps surfacing, actually one word – empathy. Put yourself in their head or your feet in their shoes. It doesn’t matter if that person is your business partner, a potential client or a homeless man collecting bottles and cans. Try to understand their plight –  and if you’re trying to help them … really help them.

Normally we look at a situation from our perspective, which is only natural. Our experiences, views and biases provide us with our own personal perspective. But how relevant is that perspective to the person we’re trying to convey a message to?

Most companies can’t get their head around the concept of empathy either. They seem to be locked into this myopic view of what they think we should want. They resort to features and gimmicks, ‘bells and whistles.’ The auto industry is a perfect example of this. How many people really want a driverless car? They all seem to have jumped on this bandwagon and rationalize their seat by touting the potential safety aspects. But isn’t it just a gimmick?

Politicians are another example. How many of them know what’s it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck, or spend a year looking for job that’s fast becoming obsolete.

Empathy isn’t just listening and taking everything at face value. It’s actually hearing what someone says. It’s looking past the words or the actions. It’s the art of ‘pulling back the curtain’ as Dorothy did in The Wizard of OzWhat are the whys?

Empathy will be the physical fitness of the future.

I call this ‘the search for the whys,’ ‘looking behind the curtain’ … ‘The Art of Empathy.’ This isn’t about truth or deception. Much of the time, the person you’re talking with doesn’t even realize there’s a disconnect between what they’re saying and what’s deep down inside them. But when it’s time to act, they will act on what’s inside … not what they say. 

Unless you live on a mountain top or spend your life in solitary confinement, you’re going to have to communicate with people. And this communication requires understand what the other person is saying … really understanding. This is empathy at its core.

And one can never fully master the ‘Art of Empathy’ anymore than you can master any other art. It’s a life long pursuit. You can always find a new and better way of interacting, of delving into the true meaning behind the action. 

And that’s not a bad thing.

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P.S. ~ Special thanks to Yvette Dubel for providing the genesis for this post.

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You can find at Twitter @clayforsberg and on Google+

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