“Empathize, you fools” - Gandalf
What is Empathy?
Empathy, in its purest form, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (not to be confused with sympathy). Empathy fuels connection, and it is a key element of emotional intelligence, because it allows you to understand what others are experiencing as if you were experiencing it yourself.
Why is Empathy important for businesses?
The business world gets a bad rap when it comes to empathy, as the concept contradicts the hustle that is an inherent and inevitable part of the modern workplace: In some offices, employees will step on each other’s faces to climb the corporate ladder… and there are good reasons why the pursuit of success is often called the “rat race”. This endless pursuit of power and prestige can make a business seem like an environment completely devoid of warmth.
However, empathy is an extremely important ingredient in business success, as it forces a business to relate to the people that they serve. Because guess what? Behind all those emails and metrics, there are people, and your focus needs to be on how to connect with them as human beings, not as numbers. In short: empathy is relationship-focused success, and it opens the door to a world of new possibilities -- as you step into a stakeholders shoes, you will start creating with them.
How can I practice empathy in my place of work?
One of the best tools you can use, if you want to ensure that your business is taking customer values into consideration, is something called an empathy map. An empathy map is used by teams within companies to gain a deeper insight into their target market. It is extremely similar to a user persona or an XBOX avatar, except that in this case it represents a group of users, A.K.A, a customer segment.
Teams engage in an empathy mapping session, armed with existing persona information, sticky notes, and any other data about the targets listed on the empathy map.
Normally, these mapping sessions happen this way:
1. Teams divide sticky notes up equally.
Have a large printout of an empathy map. This way, all the sticky notes created can be placed on the empathy map, and filtered through if/when necessary.
2. Each category of the empathy map is then tackled separately.
a. What is the stakeholder feeling?
b. What is the stakeholder thinking?
c. What is the stakeholder’s pain?
You get the idea…
3. Team members write down their answers independently.
This way, all viewpoints will be considered, and there is neither cross-contamination of ideas nor cliques forming around certain strong personalities. In these sessions, there are no dumb ideas (only dumb people…kidding!), so encourage all team members to freely express themselves.
4. Team members discuss the recurring patterns in their answers, as well as the differences.
This will encourage conversation between members, and allow for a fresh viewpoint to be created by way of synthesis and collaboration.
Empathy Mapping Pro Tips:
1. Have stakeholders come in for a mapping session.
This way, your viewpoints will be completely unbiased. Real stakeholders will be able to give real insights.
2. Allow for the mapping session to finish in its entirety.
What, you need a water break? Keep the momentum going!
3. Post empathy maps all over the office. Your team should share both vision and strategy.
This will reinforce the importance of empathy in everyday practice. In addition to this, new ideas can be added whenever inspiration strikes. As a final bonus, every time a team member sees their sticky note on the wall, it will 1. validate their efforts, 2. reinforce that they are part of the team, and 3. make them swell with pride (AKA it creates warm fuzzy feelings).
Always remember: Empathy builds great companies, fosters tight communities, and keeps customers happy.