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Issue 15

Empathy, the new required professional competency

Antonia Onaca
de aproape 10 ani trainer, psiholog, consultant sub formă de antreprenor, intraprenor și antreprenor din nou
OTHERS

Empathy is defined as the ability to stand in someone else"s shoes. This is the definition we tend to use. The specialists define empathy somewhat the same, presenting however different facets of it.

Why do I write about empathy? Firstly, because it"s more and more encountered. It"s not new but now it gets a lot of coverage especially in business writings. At this point empathy is considered that one quality that makes the difference in the work environment. I agree with this and most probably a lot of people do but not because it"s the new thing, but purely based on an utilitarian perspective.

Empathy, when present, helps us interact with those around us in more relevant ways (peers, team members, clients, customers).

I will try to provide you with a very pragmatic applicability of empathy so that we"re not left with the idea that it"s just a cute and cool philosophy or buzz word. I will analyze how it might be applied in product or service development.

Empathy, the ability to stand in someone else"s shoes allows us to build products or services that are tailored to customer"s needs. This is already at cliché level as "adapted to needs" has been heard over and over again.

Empathy leads us to a nuanced but also very in depth perspective into the needs of our beneficiaries. How does this happen? Let"s get into the concept and see how it works and how we can develop this feature.

I won"t get into details but if the topic interests you I recommend that you start with "The empathic civilization - on YouTube" and the database available from "The Centre for Building a Culture of Empathy".

So let"s get back to the concept. Those that specify empathy as their field of expertise mention that it is a process not a state. If you go deep into research you will find that it has a nature but also nurture component. This means that we come with a higher or lower predisposition towards empathy but that this can be extended or retracted by the environment. You will also learn that it can be visible from early age and that the problems with empathy are visible in autism or sociopathy.

Empathy has as components (this classification is found in most approaches but with different name tags):

This definition seems very logic but it does not state what we can do. Let"s see in this context what capacity means.

Self-empathy refers to the level of introspection needed so we can identify clearly what, how and why we feel different emotions.

Mirror-empathy is closely connected with neuropsychological components but it talks about how "infected" we can be by other"s internal states.

Cognitive empathy assumes that we have enough knowledge about the human operating system so that we can cognitively analyze what the others are feeling.

Empathic action assumes that after we understood the mechanism in the other people we can identify that action that can produce the desired changes in others.

We can conclude that empathy, be it towards us, towards others or towards groups of individuals, requires an understanding of "the internal state". The state is about how we feel, which means emotions and thoughts but also about how those emotions and thoughts are formed or are expressed and how they impact behaviors.

I"ll oversimplify psychology but emotions are sort of like shortcuts. They come as a consequence of how we interpret a specific situation. We can assert that emotions are consequences of an interpretation. We can also state that emotions are more than "I feel good/bad".

Behavioral reaction or what I do, next to physical or cognitive reactions are also a consequence of how we interpret reality.

Knowing all the above we can conclude that "practicing empathy" means to identify what someone feels, thinks and does in relationship with the reason why those feelings, thoughts or actions appeared.

Shorter empathy means "understanding what the input was and how the input was processed so that it led to a specific output"

It is already obvious how empathy helps us in developing products or services as it allows us to:

  • Understand what our user feels and does while interacting with a product or service
  • Understand why the user feels and does something (by understanding the mechanism that led to that feeling)

So if we wish for our user to feel or think or do something, we build that specific contact that will be interpreted in such a way that it generates the outcomes we want. This means that we need to know the processing rule that produces the desired outcome.

Using empathy assumes that we understand the processing rule of each individual or group because in this way we can have an insight that could help us even modify the rule.

I would only like to point out that each processing rule is individual specific and many times we will feel it doesn"t make sense, it"s not logic, nor rational.

Applying empathy we do not search for logic but we merely try to identify which is the rule. By doing this, we can build products or services, interact with others, practice leadership or build a sales pitch that generate those emotions and actions we want.

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