A Case for Cultivating an Empathy-Driven Culture

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I talk a lot about EQ (emotional intelligence) and how it along with business coaching are key assets for successful entrepreneurial business builders. But what’s often missing from the conversation is why empathy matters. Empathy is defined as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions; and the ability to share someone else’s feelings.” Some might find the two concepts at odds—business and empathy—but I assure you that there’s a lot to gain from taking on another’s perspective in the context of our professional lives. In this increasing technology-enabled world, the lack of empathy is more and more evident every day.

Empathy is not an elusive, pie-in-the-sky idea. On the contrary, it’s a skill that all of us would benefit from putting into daily practice and thereby adding value to our organizations.

Here’s how:

● Understanding customer needs and improving offerings based on consumer feedback can give you as an organization a fresh and novel perspective.

● Employee relations and morale can benefit from understanding the skills and styles of each person, and how that can inform and enhance human interactions and more importantly human understanding.

● Empathy-driven leadership can help you understand others while commanding a better understanding of the most positive aspects of your own self.

Applying empathy may seem more intuitive on a one-on-one level, but there’s a lot to be gained in making it a part of an organization’s DNA. Just how important is empathy at the corporate level? Here’s one example. I am a big fan of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos even though I was skeptical of Amazon when it first started, its business model and inability to generate profits seemed to me to be very defective, but he has made a bold statement about the company’s values, and where and how empathy fits into the mix. He’s made his email address public and ostensibly reads every note from customers, per his comments made in an April 2018 onstage interview at the George Bush Presidential Center.

Business Insider captured a few of those remarks:

“We have tons of metrics,” Bezos explained. “When you are shipping billions of packages a year, you need good data and metrics: Are you delivering on time? Delivering on time to every city? To apartment complexes? … Whether the packages have too much air in them, wasteful packaging?”

In other words, that feedback can provide a look under the hood. If data seems to contradict customer sentiment, he believes the customers.

“The thing I have noticed is when the anecdotes and the data disagree, the anecdotes are usually right. There’s something wrong with the way you are measuring it,” he explained.

In short, company performance can’t be isolated to figures related to revenue. The human element matters and that’s where empathy plays a major and important role. It allows us better to understand the people whose lives to which we are trying to add value. And in the process, we gain a fresh perspective and insight that can drive more strategic decisions.

The magic of empathy is the connection it helps us form with other people. Some of us are naturally more in tune while others can be completely oblivious of others’ feelings. Most of us fall somewhere in between the two extremes. But empathy, like many skills, can be a process. It’s learned, developed, and applied when and where needed. It’s informed from and grounded in self-awareness.

Does your organization place a value on empathy? If so, how? Do you embrace empathy? If so, how did you develop the ‘habit’?


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