Empathy – How You See People Matters

Monday, February 23 2015

Do you see your employees as real people, or merely as objects? When the time comes to sell your business, will you treat them as individuals with unique hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and feelings or as a faceless, nameless group? Will it make a difference to your bottom line or your success in selling the business?

This question is explored in the book Leadership and Self Deception[1]. The authors suggest that when you demonstrate empathy and understanding of others as unique persons, and you treat them accordingly, your reality and that of others remains more clear and accurate. However, if you treat individuals as objects, then your reality and theirs becomes distorted and over time, less true. And not in a good way.

Recently, a CEO I shared this book with said, “I thought about when people tick me off. I seldom get angry, but when I do, it happens when someone else treats me as an object, not a real person. I suddenly realized that if I treat others as objects, then even if I’m right, they’ll get mad! And I won’t accomplish what I wanted in that encounter.”

After committing to using the empathy principles in the book, another CEO reported the best meeting ever with his sales manager. The sales manager asked me, “What did you do to him? We had the most productive discussion in years. He was open, interested and non-confrontational. It was great!” When I checked back with the CEO he said, “I can’t remember actually doing anything different, other than keep in mind that she’s a person who deserves to be listened to and must have valid reasons for what she’s saying.”

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the other person’s shoes without becoming emotionally involved. It means you understand that what they are saying is real for them. You may not agree with it, but you have enough empathy and understanding of the human condition that you can see where they are coming from. It means you don’t prejudge, stop listening, or jump to conclusions until you’ve heard them out.

Now imagine that you view and treat all your employees that way. As the head of the company, your example is watched and followed every day. Do you suppose that people pick up on that? Do you think it would affect their view of you as a leader? How would that be reflected in their own behavior towards others? If your company’s culture reflected empathy and the treatment of everyone as a real person, would it affect the way employees treat customers? With a culture like that, do you feel it would impact your sales, your expenses and your profitability?

Yes, you can count on it! And it will influence what a buyer is prepared to pay for your company as well.


[1]Leadership and Self Deception, The Arbinger Institute, Aerrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco. 2010