In today’s fast-paced personal and professional lives, slowing down to embrace empathy has taken a backseat. By slowing down, we can actually speed up by better understanding others’ needs.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself three simple questions:
1. When’s the last time you’ve really listened to someone?
2. Do you ask more questions or are you eager to respond and share your own thoughts?
3. Do you always have your phone or other devices nearby when you’re engaging with those around you?
We all mean well so of course we all like to think we have empathy. How good are we really practicing it in our daily lives? One could easily make the case for why we need empathy more than ever. Having empathy helps us step away from who we are and step into someone else’s shoes. It means slowing down to pause, ask questions, and seek to understand those around us. It’s shifting from simply knowing to truly appreciating that the experiences and perspectives of others are different than your own.
Empathy reality check
If you aren’t feeling stellar about how you answered the questions above, then you deserve kudos for being honest and comfort for knowing you’re like most people out there. It’s not easy to understand other’s perspectives, to separate the facts from the emotions we put behind people’s words.
The irony our culture is faced with is we have easy, fast, multiple ways to connect with the world around us. We think we’re effectively engaging with others. But meaningful connection, empathy and shared understanding isn’t easy, fast or done across multiple forums. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s slowing down, taking the time to understand what’s behind people’s words – or what their unmet needs are that they aren’t voicing and it is one-to-one connection, looking the other person in the eye and giving them your undivided attention.
In our personal lives, we see people posting and responding rapidly on social media, communicating through more emojis than words and not really pausing to listen and ask questions. In our workplaces, the focus can often be placed more on chasing profits, efficiencies and speed to market rather than looking beyond big data to push forward towards something that is sustainable and matters to people.
How businesses – and we can do better
The concept that by slowing down, we can actually speed up, may seem contradictory, but it’s not. Companies can get productivity and new ideas from fostering empathy in the workplace while creating a better culture along the way.
Need proof? Consumers didn’t say they needed a smartphone and now we can’t imagine living without one. It was created by a company using an empathetic approach to understand how to make consumers’ lives easier and meet needs they weren’t even voicing. You probably thought your remote control worked just fine too until the ability to speak into it made it easier for you to find what you were looking for. These examples demonstrate how companies can design solutions to meet a need that folds right into consumers’ lives. But these types of transformational solutions don’t occur without paying attention to how people think, what they’re doing, asking a lot of questions and paying attention to what’s not being said. Or put simply, having empathy.
Human-centric design is key
Companies like Magid use a human-centric design and approach to understand human behavior and truly ‘live between the 6 inches of people’s ears’. They don’t just use big data to help from a marketing perspective, they seek to understand the deeper meaning behind what compelled people to take that action in the first place. And by doing so, they help other businesses not just look backward but look forward to benefit both the businesses they work with, their employees and end consumers.
How can companies get started on their own towards incorporating more empathy into their workplace? Talk to people, be aware of what’s going on, where the pain points are and recognize where the opportunities are. Empower leaders to bring different voices to the table, recognizing everyone has different perspectives that can shape rich insights. Have an honest conversation with your employees to understand what they want to get out of their own experiences. Maintain authenticity and create a space to allow your culture to organically grow. Allow employees to do more job shadowing so they understand each other’s roles and the challenges and value each provides.
Small steps can create big change. You answered three questions earlier on, so now challenge yourself to try three things:
1. Try asking five questions the next time you’re listening to someone before you say something about yourself.
2. Give yourself time to recharge, away from technology to read, have conversations with those around you and disconnect.
3. Challenge yourself to pause and look around you to see the joy of what you could be missing out on instead of being so plugged in and focused on the fear of what you may be missing out on.
Whether you’re doing it for yourself personally or professionally, having more empathy better equips us all to deal with everyday life.