Why Learning Empathy Will Be Your Business Superpower

“There are a lot of negotiators that really will give in on a deal because being understood is more important than getting what they want.” Chris Voss, the FBI’s former lead hostage negotiator said.

In fact, the first thing master-negotiator Voss teaches is you need to empathize with your counterpart on the other side.

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Picture: Depositphotos

Say that again? Voss was negotiating with kidnappers and terrorists, and he said empathy is the most important thing?

How on earth can you empathize with a terrorist or a kidnapper?

  • Empathy doesn’t mean you agree with where the other side is coming from, but…
  • Empathy does mean you try and show the other side you understand where they are coming form.

That’s a huge difference. Because the other side will be willing to communicate with you if they believe you understand them.

And your employees will feel empowered when your employees know they are being heard. I’ll get back to this point later.

And that’s why empathy is a business superpower. And I’m not just talking about in salary negotiations or customer contract negotiations.

It turns out that empathetic leaders are the most effective leaders.

He truly cared about the people working for him. And he tried to understand the people working for him too.

And you could see the CEO’s sincerity was genuine.

Now, you’re probably thinking Gifford was a wimp. On the contrary, Gifford was as tough as nails.

Arguing was encouraged. Sometimes the arguments were really heated. There were many times we were screaming at each other.

But there was safety in the environment because there was empathy. And that’s what allowed us to argue so strongly for our positions.

Empathy is about being heard. And it’s especially important that your team know they’ve been heard when you disagree.

That will give your team the power to come back to you and tell that you’re wrong. That’s right. You want your team to tell you when you’re wrong.

Your superpower empathy gives your team the courage to debate and challenge you. And that’s exactly what you want.

The commitment culture is all about your team enjoying what they are doing so much that they never want to leave. Your team has a much better chance of staying together if they feel they are being heard.

In other words, you’d better be empathetic if you want to build a great team that will stay together through thick and thin.

Empathy is the glue that always your diverse team to flourish.

“If you can empathize with people, then you can do a good job. If you have no ability to empathize, then it’s difficult to give people feedback, and it’s difficult to help people improve. Everything becomes harder.” Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack

You can’t fake empathy.

You’d read in interviews with Bob about how he considered the employees all part of his family. You’d read about how much he cared about everyone that worked for him.

Yet Bob showed, in ways big and small (down to making salaried employees take time off for doctor’s visits), that he was the only person he cared about.

I used to cringe when Bob would ask various executives, “How’s my engineering team doing?” Or, “How’s my (fill in the blank) doing?”

It was that word, “my”, that told you everything you needed to know about Bob. It was all about him, not his team. The results were predictable:

  • Employee morale was low, which led to…
  • High employee turnover, which led to…
  • A company that underperformed the market, which led to…
  • Bob eventually having to sell his company

What can you do to improve your empathy skills?

Being empathetic is a lot more than just listening. Listening is just the start. I’ll start with some don’ts:

A. Don’t interrupt. Let the other side talk. Men especially have the really bad habit of interrupting.

I know I am constantly fighting my urge to interrupt someone. You know what works for me? Sitting on my hands! Somehow or other, sitting on my hands triggers my brain to not interrupt. Then…

B. Make eye contact. Look directly at the other person if you are face to face. Don’t let yourself be distracted.

Don’t surf the net or let yourself be distracted if you are having the discussion over the phone. Stay focused on the other side. Then…

C. Listen some more. Really make sure the other side has said everything they want to say.

Now, for my most important piece of advice…

And maybe I was. But I used to blow it by giving advice right after someone had poured their heart out to me.

That’s not what the other side wants or needs. The other side needs to be heard.

How does someone know they’ve truly been heard?

I highly recommend you read Never Split The Difference, but I’ll do my best to summarize how you can indicate to the other side that you hear what they are saying:

A. Start by mirroring. Use the language your employee is using to explain their problem. Mirroring indicates that you are really listening to what they are saying. Then…

B. Add in non-definitive statements. Use phrases like “It seems like” when you are trying to form tentative conclusions. And then, the most important part…

C. You have to really care about your team. Voss’ steps for effective communication are simple enough. However, you can’t just say the words. You have to believe what you are saying.

You can’t fake empathy. But, you need to master empathy if you and your company are going to succeed.

The best CEOs understood that being empathetic doesn’t mean you can’t be tough and demanding. In fact, being empathetic is the secret sauce that allows you to push you and your team to incredible success.

For more, read: http://www.brettjfox.com/whats-your-eq-and-why-it-matters/

Written by

I work with startup CEOs to help them grow their businesses . I built several businesses from $0 to >$100M. Learn more at www.brettjfox.com

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