Empathy is a superpower.
There’s no other way to describe an ability or skill (however you want to call it) to actually step in someone else’s shoes and understand what makes them tick, why they make decisions and what they need from you.
Whether it’s a sales pitch, or you want to get someone to work for/with you, or get motivated, or you want to persuade someone – whatever you want – you see it from your perspective. If I have a product, I want to sell it and get more money, and if I get more money, I will have more success. That’s my side.
Gazing into a different state of mind
When you look at someone else, you don’t necessarily see the other side. For example, in sales, if you’re selling to a person stuck in a mid-management job with no promotion on the horizon – they have no energy to change their routine in order to work what you’re selling into it. They’re asking themselves all kinds of questions that you might not be considering (“Will this create more work for me” and “Will I get any personal added value off of that” are among my all-time favorite hits). Or on the hiring end, a very talented person that can get a job anywhere they want but are moving from one job interview to another even though they’re hearing “yes” because what they are actually looking for is something that will challenge them.
Why am I mentioning these common and somewhat banal examples?
Because they take an entirely different turn when you throw empathy in there: you understand why that person is sitting next to you. They want something (everyone does) and by being empathetic, you realize what it is they are not saying. I’ve heard investor and author James Altucher say “for everything people do there’s a good reason and a real reason”. By being empathetic you stand a chance of uncovering the real reason for people’s actions and potentially becoming a part of their decisions.
At any time of day and night, empathy is the best sales pitch you can give to the other side. And just like in a real sales pitch, it is crucial as it allows you to strategize. Because you have a finite amount of time when making a pitch of any sort, you focus on the most strategic parts and match them to a person. When you are empathetic, you’re thinking: what would I need if I was that person? What would I do? And I don’t mean that in a manipulative way, don’t promise stuff you can’t deliver, don’t tell them what they want to hear. But do try to contextualize the conversion to whom you’re speaking with, and try to empathize with their real wants and needs.
Every deal has unspoken expectations
How can you know what’s not being said? I’ve found out imagination helps to boost empathy. When you let your mind wander within certain parameters, it frees you to be creative in problem-solving. Let’s say you’re going to meet someone. Chances are, you look at his LinkedIn profile, his Facebook profile, and other related digital bits of information so you can get an idea of the person and the organization you’re going to sit with (if you don’t, do).
Once you meet them, start asking seemingly random questions: about how they feel in the company, how they work, what their responsibilities are, and so on. Essentially, you’re fitting information into a template in your head. Are they money-oriented and need an incentive of how they can profit? Are they socially oriented and perhaps look to make their life interesting by meeting unique people? Maybe career-driven? Is it harder or easier for them to implement technology? What can I do for this man/woman so he/she gets better? People come and go in different shapes and sizes, and adjusting to each persona is what makes empathy a superpower.
Where empathy really shines is outside of the confines of a pitch. For me, it’s a hack of making a really good deal. I believe a deal is always fair. If it’s maximized on one of the sides, it won’t be sustainable in the long run. When you’re empathetic and think about what the other person wants, you can structure a fair deal on solid ground.
I often use lawyers as an example of a group that doesn’t use empathy. Why? Because they don’t want the deal to close. What happens is when they try to close the deal, they’re usually using only defense mechanisms and not empathy. It’s very granular too, from how the sentences are structured to avoid an intimidating or demanding tone to the soft(er) demeanor so the other person gets what they want. As a result, a lot of deals we at M51 try to close blow up on the legal side usually because the other side is not empathetic and doesn’t understand what to give and what not to give. At the very core, they’re simply defending the position of how their client is 100% blocked from any kind of risk and danger.
As a rule of how you do business, that’s a pretty big one. And it goes deeper. If you can’t put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand why they are feeling the way they are feeling, or what incentivizes them or makes them tick – then you can’t really manage someone. If you have an employee with whom you’re not empathetic about what he/she is driven by, it will be impossible for you to motivate him/her or to get more out of that person or even understand how to work together.
When in doubt, employ empathy
When you make your own business or business model, think about the deals you want to close but be realistic by looking from the other person’s perspective. Be empathetic to what they can and cannot do (both your team and your clients). Fail to do this and someone else will come up with something that can beat you and your product. It’s the harsh truth of this digital world we live in. Everybody is adaptive, and the game is to match them by taking something that has no immediate correlation to the business itself but can win over the trust of someone else.
Showing empathy, be it cognitive, emotional, or compassionate, is something that comes within you, something you feel, and some of the best leaders and entrepreneurs have it. They know how to leverage situations a lot better because they understand the politics behind the curtain. Common perspectives lead to common goals and yield a sense of accomplishment that’s all the sweeter for it.