5 Experts Explain the Role of Empathy in Business

January 4, 2016

2:00 pm

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with five accomplished entrepreneurs. Throughout our conversations, one common theme stood out to me as a poignant aspect of all of their business philosophies: the presence of empathic communication. Empathy, it appeared, was a driving factor that influenced the success and business relationships led by these five innovators. Here are the the five insights that I learned from our conversations about empathy in business.

1. Create Value for Customers

Danny Wong, the cofounder of Blank Label, a luxury menswear company, taught me the importance of using empathy towards clients. Wong said:

“As entrepreneurs, we profit only when we create value for our customers. With empathy, we develop a more tangible understanding of what our users need and want. That way, we can innovate and build unique solutions our target audience can get excited about. When working with clients, empathy keeps us engaged as we discover what it takes to create a mutual win – and then we execute.”

Wong is also lead marketer at Receiptful, a platform to supercharge all customer interactions for eCommerce stores, and Tenfold, a click-to-dial solution for advanced sales teams.

2. Communicate as You Would with a Friend

Hampus Jakobsson, CEO of Brisk, showed me how communication style is key for business relationships. According to Jakobsson:

“Now it is the buyers market. With internet there is total transparency and most customers have done 30 percent of the decision before they even talk to a sales person. Your job is to help your customer find the best solution to the problem, even if you are not it, and to be able to do that they need to trust you. Three ways to ‘quickly build a relationship’ is to listen, be vulnerable and find similarities. Ask people a question and truly answer it, find something that you don’t know and say you are not the best at it. To find similarities do your research about them (and people don’t care that you went to the same college, but maybe that you have kids the same age or that you both are looking forward to the holidays). At the same time avoid small talk and cliches.”

Hampus shared with me a recent experience where he used empathy in business.

“I was just on two calls – one with a guy that came back from vacation in Thailand. I asked him two things: ‘would you like to relocate there?’ and ‘as a salesperson, what was the main thing you learned from all the street vendors?’. I listened with sincerity on his reply on the second part and summed it up in my own words.
The second call I was on was with a woman my age (35-40) and I said ‘sorry that I’m five minutes late, I had to get my three kids to bed.’ She asked what ages they were and I responded ‘one 7 and twins at 5’, to what she responded ‘I’m a twin too – I have a twin brother’, and then I said ‘funny, our twins are actually a boy and a girl.’ And then we started talking.”

Hampus is a serial entrepreneur; in 2002, he cofounded the pioneering mobile UI firm called The Astonishing Tribe, which was acquired by Blackberry in 2010 for $150 million. Jakobsson is also an angel investor in over 40 startups.

3. Human Needs Drive Business

Thai Nguyen, a worldly writer and researcher, explained the connection between human needs and business.

“Empathy is crucial because ‘business’ is about meeting human needs; and you cannot meet another person’s needs without first understanding them,” said Nguyen. “The more you’re able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand their struggles and hardships, the more – as a business or entrepreneur – you will be able to help provide the best solutions.”

4. Manage Empathically

Tim Askew is the CEO of Corporate Rain. Tim illustrated the importance of empathy in business management.

“Empathetic management is where business leadership must go,” said Askew. “Traditional command-and-control management techniques taught in business schools are simply old-fashion. They don’t work on the evolving modern employee, especially the Millenial employee. Empathetic management is necessary to create a sense of communal ownership and shared responsibility. It nurtures a corporate ‘we’, a trope of ‘us’, marching forward in tandem.”

Tim also has several advanced degrees, and has been a tennis pro, actor, opera singer, and Broadway producer.

5. Be an Empathic Team Member

Justin Bariso, Founder and Principle at Insight, showed me the importance of empathy as a member of a team.

“If a leader can demonstrate true empathy to individual team members, it goes a long way toward encouraging them to perform at their best. Conversely, when a team member shows empathy for the leader, it makes for a better working relationship. Instead of fighting to get others to see things our way, why not proactively show empathy? Phrases like, ‘Sorry, I’m not getting it. Show me what you mean’ go a long way. When we put forth the effort to understand another person, he or she will naturally reciprocate.”

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Jake is an Account Executive at HubSpot. He's formerly the VP of Business Development at Alumnify. In addition to Tech.Co, Jake has contributed to Inc., The Huffington Post, and Elite Daily.

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