The Power of Empathy

Published on: Mon 29 September 2014 by Admin

“If you could stand in peoples’ shoes… hear what they hear… see what they see… feel what they feel… then would you treat them differently?”

It’s all too easy to go through life caught up in our own agenda. We often forget to stop and think about what might be going on in another person’s world, which is causing them to act or react in the way that they do. Reminding people about the power of empathy is valuable in a broad range of training programmes where strong communication skills and high emotional intelligence are crucial for success.

By way of introducing the topic of empathy, as part of a  Developing Positive Relationships training programme for Yeovil District Hospital recently, I came across Cleveland Clinic’s Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care.  I was struck by the impact this short video had on the delegates; it moved some to tears. The impact was such that I decided to take a moment to share it with you.

Empathy: A powerful reminder no matter what your business sector, or your role

Understand & share the feelings of another

It’s pretty straightforward really.  Continuing with the hospital environment as an example we can all relate to: customers (patients) arrive to use a hospital’s services riddled with fear, concern, or anxiety, preoccupied by test results, a sick relative, bad news or exhaustion. During the training, we refer to these thoughts as peoples’ ‘Speech Bubbles’.

Meanwhile, staff may have a different theme running through their Speech Bubbles: tasks, duties, a long shift, got to pick the kids up after work, or the ‘Can you just…’ requests from colleagues or a manager. It’s impossible for these two themes to harmonise; it is no wonder that we receive complaints of dissatisfaction and lack of understanding or care.

But this scenario isn’t isolated to hospitals! A lack of empathy can be the cause of poor customer service, a barrier to rapport building and an instigator of conflict in internal or external customer service situations in any organisation.

Power of Empathy to make a positive difference

Time and time again I show this clip and delegates are jolted back to reality. (And what makes this video especially great is that it sticks in the long-term memory by forming an emotional connection with the key learning point.)

It’s all too easy when you are busy and saturated by your own life to start taking the angry, negative or emotional words of customers or colleagues to heart. However, anger and negative emotion is often merely a symptom of something else and it is in your power to harness the Power of Empathy to make a positive difference to your customers and colleagues, as well as to yourself.

Achieving customer service excellence (internal or external) is about creating a culture where we all take responsibility to ensure that the person we are assisting is the focus of our attention, where we offer to help that person’s experience, in that moment, to be the most positive and rewarding as possible, rather than just thinking about ourselves.

Once you realise how small the shift needs to be and how easy and rewarding it is to reach out and respond to a customer situation with “What can I do to help them feel differently and more positive?” rather than reacting with “Well I’m not the one with the issue, they are” then everyone wins.

You might find this sickly sweet, but you know what? It works!

Kirsty Whitehand, a recent delegate (and Righttrack’s Star of the Month!) explains how this has helped her at work, and at home:

“I especially enjoyed the empathy video. It has helped me to look and think about people in a very different way on a daily basis…. I have learnt to be far more empathic than I am sympathetic now. This was where I was going wrong in many ways. I found people would feed off this as you described, whereas empathising doesn’t drain me of my own energy.

I have learnt to look at things from a person’s point of view before they have even told me there problem, trying to read people, their reactions and facial expressions.

This has been most helpful with my own children. I realised I was spending so much time worrying about how busy I was and how tired I was and not realising that when they want to tell me about their day, this was them trying to be closer to me and share this with me, rather than them trying to annoy and bother me while I am making tea.

So I have learnt to listen a lot more than I did. This has proved the most valued gift…”

Empathy is there in all of us

We’ve just forgotten how to use empathy to develop positive relationships with others. Empathy is about choice in really being there for someone, in that moment. Not about merely sympathising with their dilemma or situation. And this is a difference between real customer service and just serving customers.

The outcome is rewarding. The Power of Empathy.