Empathy: Your Competitive Edge

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By John Plank | May 31, 2015

2 iStock_000015047667_LargeEmpathy, the identification with, or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another, enables us to deeply experience another’s situations and emotions. Most importantly, empathy can enable us to discover creative solutions and to provide unique, personal service to our clients .

Developing your ability to empathize not only enables you to attract more business – it adds a powerful dimension to all of your personal communications.

In the most practical sense, our ability to empathize enables us to influence and persuade clients, colleagues and even adversaries by speaking at a deeper level of understanding that will have an immediate and personal impact on the listener.

“I don’t care what you know – until I know that you care”

It is empathy that informs all great presentations. Ideally, conversations, presentations and even negotiations should be customized and personalized for your listeners, exclusively addressing what they want to know and what they need to know. With this approach, you will be able to gain and hold the attention of individuals and larger groups within the first few minutes of any communication

The ultimate goal is to be able to “read” your listeners, from moment to moment throughout your conversations and presentations.

Building Trust

Trust is the foundation of all of our activities and services in the practice of law – and we earn the trust of everyone we know by demonstrating consistently our understanding of their circumstances, their goals and their feelings.

Here are three ways to develop your ability to empathize:

  1. Pay More Attention

In childhood, you may have been admonished to “pay more attention.” The challenge to pay more attention is a constant throughout our lives – in both our professional and personal relationships. Throughout my career I have challenged myself and encouraged my clients to seek deeper and more nuanced understanding in all conversations and presentations by listening more sympathetically, faithfully acknowledging listeners, and asking more questions. Current technology enables us to record and easily access valuable, detailed notes about clients and colleagues. For many, these records become the chronicles and the testaments of their careers.

  1. Indulge in Pleasurable Pastimes

There is compelling evidence that cultivating the habit of reading books, experiencing films, theatre and opera, and sharing stories with friends and colleagues enhances our ability to empathize. For busy professionals wanting a balanced and fulfilling life, these activities need to be given priority.

  1. Share What You Know

Perhaps the most practical and rewarding way to improve your ability to empathize and to improve all of your communication skills is by finding opportunities to teach. Volunteering to teach professional development courses in your areas of interest and expertize, conducting “lunch and learns” at work and, especially, mentoring will all enhance your ability to empathize and define your legacy.

“Empathy is a special way of coming to know another and our self, a kind of attuning and understanding.”

Carl Rogers