Some friends of mine got some terribly difficult news recently. Despite that, I saw a picture on Facebook of them enjoying a rooftop patio over the weekend. They looked like any other couple, happy and in love and it made me smile. But it also made me think, if their server had known their situation, or how emotionally tired or scared they must be, what difference might that have made in how they treated my friends? It’s during moments like these that I spend time reflecting on whether I’m making the difference that I intend to in the work I do and the life I lead.
I wanted to share this because I believe that, especially in an industry like ours, we can touch so many people’s lives through our work, and I hope that you cherish the opportunity. I found a podcast called Using Empathy to Build Human Business Relationships and I thought it would be a good place to start.
Simply put, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and be able to relate to them. The host quoted an article about a men’s clothing store who taught lessons on using empathy to help clients. The CEO had said that “when working with clients [or anyone, I’d argue], empathy can keep us engaged to discover what it takes to create a mutual win, and then we execute.” And then we execute.
Two truths became crystal clear to me. The first is that, to show empathy, you must engage with every guest (or coworker, or family member). Meaning, for each interaction you would like to make a difference in, you must go in with the intention of finding that magic moment of the experience. Perhaps the magic will be found in the way you connect when you see someone wearing a Dave Matthews bracelet and they’re your favorite band, or when you offer someone help when they look lost or confused, or the laugh you have at the table with guests when you say something funny by accident. Look for those opportunities in every interaction with every guest and your day will be much more rewarding because you’ll learn new things all the time.
The second truth hurt. The host reminded listeners that building the relationship first and truly understanding another person’s unique position before you can create magic is essential. She said that, often people try to jump in and help too soon, without having built a solid foundation and that although we “may have the most altruistic intentions,” you can’t help others without first putting yourself in their shoes. Hearing that was a little bit of a shock to me because it brought to light mistakes I have made personally. In the past, I’ve tried to dive right in and help, and believed that the fact that I was nice and had the best intentions would pave the way. It doesn’t. You can’t circumvent the relationship building process.
I think we all know that when a guest is upset we should show empathy. We use important phrases like “I’m sorry this is so frustrating” and “I would be upset, too, if this had happened to me.” But I think it’s easy to forget that every situation requires the same care.
Here are a few tips for showing empathy in everyday life:
- Leave your personal opinions at the door. This means that you put aside any feelings you might have, and think about another person’s point of view.
- Actively listen. Hear what they’re saying (and not saying) by searching for clues as to how they’re feeling in their speech and in their body language. Don’t just listen for the point where you can respond.
- Ask lots of questions. Get to know people. Look for magic moments to create a guest’s best day ever!
- Validate another person’s perspective. Try to find a way to relate to what they’re saying. For example, if you have a group of ladies coming in for happy hour and they’re laughing, you might say, “it sounds like you ladies bring the party with you!” If you ask what brings a dad and his kids out and he says it’s his weekend with them, you might respond with, “what a great idea to spend it having fun together here. Those are some of my best memories growing up.”
- Don’t worry about being right. This is a great tip in conflict situations because, if you’re like me, you have a finely tuned sense of justice. You might understand your processes or your policies better than anyone, but remember that if you seek first to understand you can still get your desired outcome, without anyone having to be on the losing end.
For more tips on how to develop empathy, particularly in difficult situations, there is a great Mindtools article, Empathy at Work.
Being empathetic is a skill that can (and should) be practiced daily because it doesn’t always come naturally. I make mistakes every day, but I know that practice makes permanent, if not perfect.
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