The Other Side

How often have you walked away from a business or personal encounter with someone thinking “they just don’t get it”?  I find myself doing that a lot more often these days.  Maybe I’m just becoming a grouchy old guy or maybe I’m just becoming more aware of the lack of empathy that seems so prevalent.

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.  It is important to note that empathy does not necessarily imply compassion. Empathy can be ‘used’ for compassionate or cruel behavior.

And that’s really one big key, isn’t it?  My daughter teaches little kids and is good at it.  I think it’s because she’s very much in touch with her inner child and thinks as the kids do.  The checkout person at the supermarket who swipes their saver card so you get all the discounts when you forget your card – either they get it or their bosses do.

Conversely, we’ve all had those encounters where you feel as if you’re talking to a wall.  “Sorry, the policy is…no, we don’t do that (no explanation)…I can’t help you, sir…”  At some point, we’re all on the other side of the situation – the person who works for the phone company who needs help with medical benefits, the person at the cable company who can’t get their electric bill straightened out.  How do they not “get it” after that?  Why can’t they see those experiences are not separate and their behavior in business needs to match their expectation as a consumer?

We had an incident a few years ago at the NHL where we ran out of jerseys in our online store (and offline too!).  Customers had placed orders and were getting neither information nor jersey from our commerce partner.  We assigned people internally to do nothing but answer their questions.  We couldn’t get them jerseys but we did diffuse the situation by letting people know what the facts were (why we were out of stock), what we could do for them (not much), and, most importantly, that we CARED and were listening.  And that, dear reader, is mostly what people want to know.  Someone is there, is listening, is acting if they can, and empathizes with you even if they can’t.

If you run a business, teach empathy.  Your salespeople will sell more, you’ll spend less on customer service, and your email box won’t get filled up with hate mail quite so much.

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