The older I get, the more experienced I get, the more I look into the literature of entrepreneurship, and leadership too, the more I appreciate the critical importance of empathy.
Empathy is feeling what another person feels. It’s being able to imagine what it’s like to be that other person. It’s understanding.
Empathy is the best trait in entrepreneurship. Why?
- Empathy sits at the core of the business idea or business model. Successful businesses give people something they want to have. They offer value. You just can’t do that without understanding what people want and need, and how they want to get it, and what they care about. Good businesses make people better off.
- Empathy drives marketing. You have to understand the person you’re trying to reach. Getting to know an ideal target customer is all about empathy. The stories that drive marketing are about the customer’s problem and customer needs and how to reach that customer. You can’t find a really good website, or software product, or ad that isn’t all about feeling what the user feels and seeing what the user sees. That’s empathy.
- Selling is all about empathy. Great salespeople understand customers’ problems and want to solve them. Great sales is 98 percent listening and two percent talking.
- Leadership is all about empathy. Leadership is human interaction. A leader, and a good boss, understands people and manages according to the person, the context, the specific situation. Always hard-ass won’t do it, but always too soft won’t do it either. It takes empathy.
And that’s just to get us started. If you think about it, you can come up with lots more points for that list.
Dyke Drummond had an interesting quote in a comment to my list of entrepreneurship traits post last week:
And I agree about EMPATHY. I think it is a very underused term because people think it is “Soft” … and it is the core of any successful marketing campaign. You must be able to put yourself into the shoes of your prospect.
Me, I’m soft, and that’s good.
In a world that people like to divide into techie vs. fuzzy, I like fuzzy. You could call that liberal arts vs. science and engineering, if you’d like. I don’t care, because, after all, I’m a fuzzy.
In response to my confusing numbers with truth post last week, Kevin McNulty said:
I disagree: data is by definition a body of facts. Misrepresenting data or drawing poor conclusions is the problem.
And I disagreed back: Data is not necessarily facts. “Misrepresenting data and drawing poor conclusions” is commonplace, more the rule than the exception. It’s built into misunderstanding people, stories, truth, and uncertainty. Truth is in stories, not facts; and much less research.
And empathy leads to success way more often than research, data, or facts. Stay soft. It’s good for business.
Empathy is essential. Sure, that’s obvious for your life and your relationships, but also, although not so obvious, for your business. Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes: feeling what they’re feeling, imagining what it’s like to be them. Isn’t that the key to marketing and product development? Isn’t that also the single most important factor in leadership? Dealing with people? And business strategy? I think so.
I posted Empathy as a key to business success here a bit more than a year ago. What’s new about it today is Gandhi’s Neurons: The Practice of Empathy by Bruna Martinuzzi on the American Express OPEN Forum. She links to this fascinating video by Nova Science (PBS), which examines something called mirror neurons, also dubbed Gandhi’s neurons. The mirror neurons fire as we feel for others, or with others. Narrator Robert Krulwich introduces this as new science:
We humans are really good at reading faces and bodies. ‘Cause if I can look at you and feel what you’re feeling, I can learn from you, connect to you, I can love you. Empathy is one of our finer traits, and when it happens it happens so easily, perhaps because—and this is brand new science, this is just out of the lab—we may have some special circuitry in our brains that helps us whenever we look at each other.
It’s because of mirror neurons that “you can adopt another person’s point of view,” according to Dr. V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego. He notes that humans are intensely social. We invent dances, games, groups… we eat together, we work together, and we talk. Language and culture come from imitation. He even suggests that it was a sudden advance in mirror neurons that spurred a jump in evolution to make us human.
So, as I said earlier, marketing? Product development? Leadership? I hope the connection is obvious.
I don’t know how the science of it necessarily helps us with the actual practice; but I find it fascinating, and when I saw this, I wanted to share.