I went to a marketing conference not long ago where empathy was talked up as a vital skill in both life and business.
I had a pop at differentiating empathy and sympathy in this article.
Empathy is colloquially defined as ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’. And more formally as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.
If you don’t understand your market, you’ll never work it properly.
If you don’t understand your clients, it’s harder to sell to them, service them, and retain them.
If you don’t understand your candidates, they’re more likely to bail before the end of their rebate.
So here are four TED Talks on the subject of empathy that’ll give you food for thought, questions to ask yourself, and maybe a new way of thinking.
Sam Richards is a sociologist described as the “teacher of the largest race relations course in the US”.
He begins this talk by stating that empathy’s key to understanding sociology: “the way in which human beings are shaped by things that they don’t see”.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t know where this one was going to start with. Richards is talking about how China impoverished America by taking their coal and sending in tanks. Before flipping the scenario to relate to the US occupation of Iraq.
He’s doing it to illustrate that with a shift in thought, it’s possible to be empathetic towards almost anyone.
A person’s emotional reaction to events are largely a matter of perspective. And being empathetic towards others is vital to understanding their motivations and circumstances.
Bearing in mind this talk aired in 2010, a year before US withdrawal. When fighting – and emotions – were still at a peak. It’s a reminder that you can use empathy to understand people in situations that aren’t quite life or death.
Like when a candidate takes a counter. Or ghosts you halfway through a big process. You might think they’re the greatest villain on earth. And maybe they are.
Dylan Marron’s no stranger to hate on the internet. In fact, he runs us through a selection of some of it at the beginning of his talk.
Marron didn’t block or mute his critics. He started talking to them, even calling some of them. Often asking a single question:
And not in a confrontational way. In a genuinely interested way. And the responses are pleasantly surprising.
Dylan asked the question because even though the comments came from behind a computer screen, you have to remind yourself sometimes they’re written by actual humans.
The trouble is empathy requires vulnerability. Particularly if it’s towards someone you disagree with.
It takes a leap of faith to empathise with people. And vulnerability isn’t exactly a trait that’s commonly associated with Recruiters.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean you endorse a person’s position.
But if you take that understanding into interactions with people you’re in disagreement with – candidates weighing up counters, clients not taking your meetings, management questioning your attendance – giving a bit of ground, or finding a way round, becomes easier to do.
And the results may surprise you. Much like in this talk.
Michele Sullivan spent three decades with engineering and manufacturing giant Caterpillar, most recently as President of the Caterpillar Foundation and Director of Corporate Social Innovation.
In this talk, Michele reminds us – and this may be hard for Recruiters to digest – you can’t read minds.
Which means things like financial status, romantic tribulations, garden variety stress, aren’t something you can guess. And that works both ways.
Empathy requires a degree of vulnerability. And it takes courage to be vulnerable.
In recruitment, sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is ask for help.
From your Manager when you’re struggling under a heavy workload. To your clients who’ve given you The Hardest Search Known To Man™️ and you’re looking for a little leeway.
Your manager should want you to smash your job. Your clients should want you to fill theirs.
So if I was going to take a business lesson out of this talk it would be this:
Daniel Goleman, purveyor of coaching and training programs for business leaders, and author of Emotional Intelligence asks the same question, several different ways.
And following Michele’s talk above rather conveniently, Daniel argues our brain’s are predisposed to wanting to help people by default. Being actively compassionate, which comes from a position of empathy.
You can’t learn empathy. But you can practice being empathetic. Which means technically it’s a skill that can be improved upon.
There’s one thing you can try, to demonstrate how proficient you are with empathy: on your next BD call, see how long it takes to ask a question with the word “you” in it.
If there’s a ‘you’ in your first three, you’re probably BDing with empathy.
Proactively practicing empathy to the point of compassion’s probably going to stand you quite well in the long run.
You’ll get left recommendations from clients that say things like “unbelievably intuitive to our needs”. And candidates will write LinkedIn posts about how you put on the best candidate journey going.
Now I say this in the nicest possible terms and with all due respect to Mr Goleman but the end of his talk does sound a bit like a LinkedIn humblebrag. Except this one’s actually worth listening to.
The rest of our TED Talks series is right here.
If you consider yourself an empathetic Recruiter, I wrote a piece on how that gives you access to an incredibly powerful sales locker.
Senior Perm & Contract Consultants - Tech Austin at Twenty Recruitment
Global Headhunter & Account Manager at Emerald Technology
Consultant - Marketing - Professional Services at EMR
Senior Recruitment Consultant at Stott and May