People do business with companies for many reasons, but on a fundamental level, people do business with companies that make them feel good. That feel-good experience can manifest in many different places at many different levels. However, if it is going to show up at all, ultimately it will happen because the company’s employees are concerned about how their customers will feel. This means that the employees will have empathy, as Geoff Colvin reports (“Employers Are Looking for New Hires With Something Extra: Empathy” Fortune, September 22, 2014, p. 55):
“A mushrooming demand for employees with affective, nonlogical abilities spans the economy. Empathy—sensing at a deep level the feelings and thoughts of others—is the foundation.”
On the one hand this seems obvious. On the other hand it appears too many companies are in short supply of this warm fuzzy commodity:
“When author George Anders searched for online job postings that paid over $100,000 a year and specified empathy or empathetic traits, he quickly found 1,000 of them from companies as varied as Barclays Capital, McKinsey, and Mars.”
You and I both know that unmistakable impression that a company did not give any thought to our feelings. It is not a pleasant experience. This is why empathy is such an important trait for every employee. As disturbing a concern as this is, here is what is even more disturbing:
“[Empathy] is becoming ever more valuable, in part because the supply of candidates who possess it seems to be shrinking—at least in the U.S. Empathy among American college students has declined significantly over the past 30 years, . . . Other research gives little reason to believe it will increase as they grow older.”
So what is happening with empathy? As I have pondered this question, a few possibilities come to mind:
1—Although society has always had its problems, we do seem to be in a society today that is facing overwhelmingly complex challenges at every level. Perhaps family, economic, medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, and relational factors have subtly reinforced the selfish, narcissistic theme of the day. In that mindset, empathy is a strange bedfellow.
2—As a group, American college students are the first generation to have come of age during our social media revolution. Perhaps all the pitfalls and risks of the virtual world have infected our real world. If not used thoughtfully, online communication can destabilize the empathetic compass.
3—The complexity of our increasingly high-tech, virtual society might be displacing our formerly high-touch, real society. Perhaps that dynamic trains people to be less caring and communicative. The emphasis we have seen on technology may have pushed emotional intelligence and human feelings to the back of the bus. Sharing with the mind takes priority over sharing from the heart.
4—Everyone sometimes needs someone to point to the path. Perhaps the empathy dearth speaks of a mentor dearth. If qualified, noble, mature, professional, caring people do not initiate mentoring relationships, then potential mentees will suffer. Without leadership, everyone suffers.
To some extent, nature versus nurture applies. Some of these empathy deficiencies might be irreparable. Nonetheless, we still have nurture. As much as possible, I intend to continue integrating the empathetic approach to life and business. Now that’s good for people and it’s good for business.
How about you?