The importance of empathy
Todd Haskell | October 25, 2018
What is the driver that makes you get up and go to work each day? How do you measure the success of your business? Is the focus on your goals? Or on the goals of your customers?
Let me tell you a story about why this matters. A while back I was teaching a course where I asked students to do a short writing assignment. As part of the instructions, I gave them what I thought were very clear directions about what to include in their report:
I was both surprised and frustrated when a significant percentage of students left one or more of these pieces out. It's difficult not to attribute all sorts of negative things to those students - they were lazy, they were careless. This is college, they need to get their act together and grow up. At that point, I had to make an important decision. Was it more important to me that I be right, or that the assignment was successful?
After taking a little time get some perspective, I swallowed my pride and decided to focus on making the next assignment more successful. And that led me naturally to what turned out to be the key questions: What were the barriers that were standing in the way of my students being successful? And what could I do to eliminate some of those barriers?
A couple assignments later, I had figured out a simple but effective way to drastically reduce how many students left out a piece of the assignment. Rather than a list of instructions, I gave students a template where after each question was a space where students could type in their response:
It was such a simple change. But it made my students happier, it made me happier, and most importantly, they got more out of the assignment.
This all really got me thinking about my own barriers, the things that prevented me from feeling empathy for my students. I realized that I was focused on who I thought my students should be, rather than who they actually were. As a result, I was always trying to change them into some kind of ideal perfect student, and I got frustrated when this failed.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to reduce barriers to empathy. One of the most effective is taking the time to listen to people's stories. A neat part of my work is that I get to talk to all kinds of people, about all kinds of everyday things - shopping, going out to dinner, trying to buy plane tickets on-line. No matter what kind of business you're in, there are ways you can listen to your customers, too - really listen, not just send them a customer satisfaction survey in their e-mail. If you're not sure how to do that, reach out to us and we can help you come up with some ideas.