Your business success depends on relationships. With clients, team members, suppliers, and other business owners.
So developing and honing your relationship skills makes sense, right?
This is a lifelong process, but you can make a great start by fostering empathy.
Empathy is the practice of perceiving and relating to the emotions and perspectives of others. To get better at empathy, understand and practice these 3 steps:
1. Listen with an open mind and open heart. All you have to do is listen fully. Set aside any temptation to problem solve, analyze, or judge at this point. Listen. Watch their facial expressions and body language.
You can also give the other person signals that you’re listening:
- Stop whatever else you’re doing. This is not the time to multi-task. If you’d like to make notes because it will help you remember their important points, then ask if it’s OK first.
- Turn to them and face them.
- Lean forward a little to indicate interest.
- Maintain eye contact without staring.
Finally, an important point: don’t interrupt.
It’s becoming more and more common in our culture to interrupt while another is speaking. That doesn’t make it OK. To develop your empathy skills, practice waiting until the other person has finished speaking. The space you create by doing so will bring out more information than you would ever get by prodding.
2. Learn more. Ask questions to find out the person’s concerns and mindset. Here are some examples to help you get started.
To assess the situation as it stands: How have you approached this so far? What’s working and what’s not working? How would you like things to have gone?
To go deeper: What’s your biggest fear about this situation? What has the impact been on you and others? How does this situation challenge your perceptions or stretch you?
To shift the focus to the future: What needs to happen next, do you think? What’s one thing you/we can do to move forward? What support do you need so we can avoid this in future?
3. Acknowledge that you have heard and understood. For empathy to be most valuable, people need to know that you’ve heard them, that you understand where they are coming from. That acknowledgement is best communicated with words. Your signals (see #1) do help, but body language isn’t always clear.
After the other person has finished speaking, make statements to let them know that you’ve heard. I know this can feel a little awkward at first, but repeating back key points is so helpful. By practicing it, you’ll get more comfortable. If it helps, you can begin with: “Just so I’m sure I’m understanding you”, or “I’d like to be really clear about the things you’ve said.”
Refrain from launching into your own story about how the same thing happened to you! This time is all about the other person. After you’ve established empathy and the person feels fully heard, then you can share. Limit that sharing to important points that demonstrate empathy. Don’t make it a mutual complaint session, or take the focus away from the other person.
Above all, treat the other person with respect and honor what they have to say, whether you agree or not.
You’ll be surprised by how open people become when they feel listened to and heard. You’ll hear things you wouldn’t otherwise hear, valuable information that you can use to help resolve the situation as your next step.
Even the Harvard Business Review lists empathy as one of the 5 critical leadership traits. When you develop this business skill, you’re also developing your leadership. You as a business owner are a leader, and modeling effective behavior is a great way to demonstrate it. With empathy, you’ll encourage people to openly engage new ideas, and improve their own relationships.
Empathy is powerful. It’s an essential skill for successful communication. When you practice it effectively, empathy can work real change for your business.
That client who comes to you with a complaint can become an advocate, a source of referrals, and a repeat client.
That prospective client in a new market can share valuable information about their needs and what they value that can help make your new offering successful.
That team member who is not performing well can be transformed into a high-performing staff member who makes great contributions. Or you’ll both become clear that they would do better elsewhere, either in your company or outside of it, and you can hire someone who is a better fit, saving you time and money.
That conflict you are having with a supplier can be turned into a deeper understanding and a more profitable service.
That joint venture partner you’re considering working with can become an important ally and help you reach more people as you find the best way to work together.
That business mastermind you’re participating in can become a greater source of active support and referrals.
Use these 3 steps to develop your empathy skills. They’ll strengthen your relationships, and you’ll see a boost in your bottom line.