There’s no question that everyone has some understanding of empathy. Your first instinctual reaction to the title of this article was probably skepticism. A quick Google search could easily give you the textbook definition, but this wouldn’t give you the true meaning of what empathy is.
What we really want to focus on is the real understanding of what it means to be empathetic, and how to use it as a tool to improve your value, reputation, and relationship in any negotiation. We don’t like to make guarantees; the most we can promise is that by the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what empathy really is.
A Counter-Cultural Definition of Empathy
The Black Swan Group has a definition of empathy that differs from what you’ll find in the dictionary. We define empathy as the nonjudgmental way of understanding the world from another’s perspective, and verbalizing their point of view back to them. Our definition of empathy doesn’t involve feelings, like sympathy or compassion. While those are important characteristics, empathy should always be kept as neutral ground. Empathy is where two opposing views can come together and collaborate. It’s where understanding can form.
The issue is that many people mistake empathy for just words, when in its true form it’s action. It’s a mindset. Just like the difference between hearing something and listening to it, true empathy involves vocalizing someone’s understanding of the world. Our goal, through empathy, is to make the other person feel heard and understood. That only happens through action.
Where You Go Wrong
The biggest mistake we see people making, high level executives included, is saying “I understand” as a way of showing empathy. “I understand” is an ineffective shortcut at attempting empathy. It just becomes a filler phrase, because you aren’t actually demonstrating understanding at all. To actually execute empathy and reap the benefits of using it requires listening, processing, and verbalizing.
The other problem with “I understand” is how it’s used, which is often to get someone to stop talking. When we’re in the middle of a conversation and someone cuts you off with “I understand,” that doesn’t come across as empathetic but apathetic. This is the equivalent of shutting the other side down. Instead of demonstrating understanding you’re letting them know you can’t handle them or their emotions.
Empathy is Worth the Effort
If you want a quick fix, Tactical Empathy™ isn’t it. But if you want to build long-term relationships with more fruitful collaborations, then Tactical Empathy is worth the effort. By taking the time to focus on what the counterpart’s world looks like, you won’t have to circle back to the same issues down the line. You’ll encourage reciprocity, and create a more secure foundation for collaboration.
Empathy is even more important and effective when your counterpart’s view holds you or your company in a negative light. Putting forth the effort of understanding their position will reveal those negative assumptions sooner, equipping you with the knowledge you need in order to defuse those negatives with an Accusation Audit™.
And, following that, your demonstration of empathy instantly increases your reputation. You’ve taken the time to understand and flesh out the other side’s wants and needs before your own–that’s someone worth doing business with. Tactical Empathy™ ultimately sets the stage not just for collaboration in the present, but also the future.