Insights

  • The Power of Empathy, Part 2: Empathy in Business Relationships

    by Tim Reeder | Mar 25, 2019

    The power of empathy in business relationships

    A while back we posted the blog “The Power of Empathy, Part 1: Empathy in Business Networking,” which pertained to the power of exhibiting empathy when you are meeting businesspeople and prospects for the first time. This article, Part 2, focuses on how to communicate within and treat these relationships after these contacts have become our clients and customers.

    We have established at this point that empathy is our capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the ability to place oneself in another's shoes. When it comes to maintaining healthy, long-term, and mutually beneficial relationships, few skills or virtues are more valuable than empathy.

    Let’s be honest: business relationships are fragile. Both parties have wants, needs, domains they wish to protect, and expectations. Many times, large sums of money are changing hands for products and/or services. The success (or failure) of associated initiatives can even sometimes significantly affect someone’s career. So, how we act and communicate within these relationships is, quite frankly, critical.

    Empathy is often viewed as something intangible, a skill that you either have or you don’t. This is not true. Empathy is not a “soft” skill. Empathy is an often overlooked, yet essential, business skill that can be learned, practiced, and honed.

    These six tips can help you develop trust, compassionate empathy, and overall stronger business relationships with your clients.

    1. Be present and in the moment.

    We live in a fast-paced world of information overload, multi-tasking, being online all day, and a constant stream of distractions. As a symptom of this reality, studies show that people are having a harder time concentrating and are less empathetic today than they were in decades past. Underscoring the importance of social awareness, this now makes the art of being empathetic all the more valuable and powerful. To develop and exhibit empathy, you’ll need to learn to cultivate “being present” and “in the moment.” This means being in the here and now and focusing intently on the person in front of you, rather than allowing your mind to wander or allowing yourself to be distracted by unimportant peripheral stimulus. Only by being present and hyper-attentive to the person you are with can you be empathetic. 

    Some techniques to cultivate presence are having very clear goals and objectives going into a meeting, preparing a list of questions beforehand (and setting the expectation at the meeting outset that you hope to address all of them), committing to taking steady notes during the meeting, and remembering that it’s not about you—it’s about your client.

    2. Actively listen.

    Closely aligned with being present and in the moment, active listening is a communication technique that is used in counseling, training, and conflict resolution. It requires that the listener fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. This one skill can vastly improve virtually every relationship you have and may be one of the most valuable skills you will ever learn in your lifetime. 

    Sometimes we just love to hear ourselves talk. On occasion, we all enjoy feeling important and showing how smart we are. However, often we come to conversations with assumptions, certain preconceived notions, ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. This causes us to not listen, and to not really hear—to take to heart—what someone else is saying. This is self-defeating and can even be insulting to others. 

    To the contrary, hearing what someone is saying as if you’re hearing it for the first time and with a genuine intent to learn something, will enable you to actively listen. You can practice this skill by listening very attentively to what someone is telling you and by looking for a connection—seeking some common ground—while you listen. Focus completely on that person and do not get distracted. Paraphrase things the other person is saying, and clarify what they’ve said with thoughtful questions, and you will witness firsthand the power of this skill.

    3. Seek first to understand.

    One thing we love equally to feeling important is feeling understood. Business, to a large extent, is about problem solving: one party has a challenge, the other aims to solve it. With that in mind, before you can solve a problem, you have to deeply understand what that problem is, why it exists, how it manifested in the first place, and what pain or inconvenience it’s causing your client. Albert Einstein famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” The lesson? Ask good questions, listen more than you speak, and seek first to understand.

    4. Imagine what the other party is going through.

    The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is at the core of empathy. When working with a client, seek not only to understand what business objective they want to address, but to truly understand how they feel and think about the situation. What is their motivation? How is their current situation negatively impacting their job, their team, and their goals? Why is this initiative important to their charter and the company mission? What type of qualitative and quantitative improvements will indicate success? Drilling down on such questions will put the focus squarely on your client and convey that you are sensitive to their needs and concerns and are genuinely intent on helping.

    5. Be proactive, and take action.

    In the business world, when dealing with clients, we often say, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” There’s nothing wrong with that at its core. However, you are putting the burden on that person to think of something you can do for them and then to actually ask you for it. As an alternative, instead of just making yourself available, just do … something. Be proactive. Make it about them. Maybe there is some relevant data or thought leadership you can provide to your client. Perhaps invite them to a lunch and learn session or give them a Starbucks’ gift card. Give them an unsolicited endorsement on LinkedIn. If, instead of passively asking, you just do something, this will show that you are committed to really making a difference in their business life — not just paying lip service to the topic.

    6. How will this initiative benefit you personally within the organization?

    I find this question to be unique and effective in a couple of ways. Every company asks about business objectives and goals, which is an important, practical topic to cover. However, though practical, it is impersonal. But when you ask someone how they, personally and specifically, will benefit, that sets you apart. First, you can safely bet your competition isn’t asking that question. Second, this question conveys that you are interested in the well-being of the person across the table. It says that not only do you care about the business aspects being discussed, you actually care about the people involved too. This demonstrates emotional maturity, openness, compassion, and most importantly, empathy. 

    Empathy takes effort. Like strength training, for instance, it isn’t always fun, easy, or comfortable. Selfless social sensitivity and putting yourself in someone’s shoes can be a challenge, especially when their perspective may differ from yours. That said, it’s not about being selfless or nice, although these virtues are very positive unto themselves. Empathy is about connection, understanding, and deeper human interaction. And better yet, be encouraged that when you put in the effort and investment, empathy can be cultivated and the benefits substantial. For instance, these six tips aren’t just about connecting with customers—they can positively impact all parts of your business and personal life with family, friends, employees, partners, investors, suppliers, and more. 

    Mastering empathy will help foster creativity, enable you to retain clients and employees, help improve performance, reduce conflicts, and achieve more success. Give it a try! And if you have some other tips on empathy in business relationships, we’d love to hear from you—please share with us at info@trellist.com.

    Learn more about how Trellist approaches new and evolving business problems by checking out the rest of our blogs here.
  • Artificial Intelligence: The Good and the Bad

    by Tim Reeder | Jan 15, 2019

    A yin and yang of artificial intelligence

    In July, we published an article on artificial intelligence (AI) in marketing called “The Future Is Now: AI-Driven Marketing.” AI is all around us these days; we give verbal commands to our automobiles, make verbal inquiries of our smartphones, voice-dictate text messages, verbally control the music we play, and much more.  

    Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other voice-controlled personal assistants will perform countless tasks for us – all we have to do is ask. Such convenience and power it gives us! It’s like magic. It’s cool and futuristic.

    But is it necessary?

    Just because we can…should we?

    And for all the convenience, what are the risks and drawbacks?

    I’m not going to attempt to answer all of those questions in one blog post, but I do have some relevant perspective to share.

    In the late-fall, my girlfriend and I were out walking our dog and we approached a party going on in a neighbor’s backyard. From a distance I could hear many people talking—some quite loudly—and it sounded like a good time. As we got closer, I could clearly hear virtually every word being spoken.

    “Alexa, play ‘Uptown Funk’!”

    Five seconds later, from another voice, “Wait, Alexa, play Lady Gaga, ‘Poker Face’!’” 

    Literally, seconds later from another guest, “No, I have a better one…”

    As we walked on by, I casually mentioned to my girlfriend, “That was interesting. They were quite fascinated with the voice-control of Alexa. They jumped through 3-4 different songs in the span of about 30-seconds!”

    Having walked about a 1-mile loop, we headed back home and found ourselves again upon this party and the voices of the guests, still making song requests.

    For at least 15-20 minutes, instead of engaging in some level of constructive social dialogue, all they were doing was trying to one-up each other in a contest to see who could play the best song—something they were never going to come to any consensus on—while never allowing a song to play for more than 15-20 seconds. I can only assume this must have been a brutally unpleasant auditory experience for some of the guests. It seemed like a social experiment gone annoyingly awry.

    Do you see the conundrum here? Not every technological advancement is necessarily going to improve the norms and rituals we’ve come to know, love, and hold sacred.

    The above observation, admittedly, is not a flattering look at AI. However, just as Paul McCartney often brought light and positivity to John Lennon’s darker view, I do see the other side. I’m actually excited about artificial intelligence in the bigger picture. AI is a powerful, emergent force that big tech companies are fawning over—and for good reason.

    One of the most appealing attributes of AI is the endless possibility for applications. Its foundations, based on heuristic algorithms and recently combined with more refined and structured architectures, can be employed to solve a wide variety of problems—and the limitations here are largely unknown. Major advances in AI are happening in voice recognition, image recognition, deep learning, data prediction, pharmaceuticals, machine autonomy, military, radiology, and design. My Alexa example (voice recognition + deep learning) is just a small fraction of the breadth AI encompasses today.

    Let’s examine one example where AI is positively impacting the banking industry. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has partnered with McAfee to evaluate just how much cyber-crime is costing the world. They estimate the global cost was somewhere around $600 billion in 2018, up from ~$400 billion back in 2014. This increase of ~50% over four years poses a huge risk and potential money loss for banks all over the world. Thus, banks are looking for smarter ways of detecting fraud, along with preventing users from experiencing a false-positive fraud alert while making legitimate purchases.

    Financial institutions are turning to AI to help with this problem. Along with better credit card technology, like EMV chip cards, banks are building integrated heuristic-based systems to monitor and report in real time on the transactions being made everywhere. This additional level of validation could potentially save billions worldwide (~$150 billion in the USA alone).

    These solutions, commonly known as machine learning or artificial intelligence applications, essentially learn purchasing behaviors of individuals, groups of people, and nations as a whole, then consolidate this information to perform a set of validation checks against transactions to determine if they meet the criteria of being considered fraudulent. These applications can also learn from their mistakes; as false-positives or missed fraudulent actions are reported, the algorithm can automatically adjust accordingly.

    These tactics are somewhat vulnerable to ‘new’ fraud strategies, but consumer feedback can quickly help to thwart new threats, as these artificial intelligence algorithms can adjust quickly based on a relatively small sample of consumer feedback.

    Such use cases are obviously contingent on our successful improvement and application of artificial intelligence, but we’re slowly getting there. Despite my negative anecdotal story regarding Alexa at a neighborhood party, emerging tech advances lead me to believe that AI might possibly be one of the most important and innovative technological advances in our lifetime. Really exciting!

    Have you had any interesting AI experiences recently? We’d love to hear from you—please share with us at info@trellist.com.

    1https://www.mcafee.com/enterprise/en-us/assets/reports/restricted/rp-economic-impact-cybercrime.pdf

  • The Power of Empathy, Part 1: Empathy in Business Networking

    by Tim Reeder | Aug 23, 2018

    Empathy in business networking
    Excellent technical abilities, much like a strong grasp of modern marketing strategies, can take you a long way in your career. However, little can impede your upward career trajectory faster than a lack of people skills. Being able to effectively communicate with others is paramount to navigating the business world.

    Understanding and practicing empathy—both in personal and in business relationships—can significantly improve your existence. In fact, I can safely say that empathy has played a central role in helping me build a successful career and a rich life.

    What exactly is empathy? It’s the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the ability to place oneself in another's shoes.

    When it comes to business networking, empathy will help you significantly elevate your game. I don’t know about you, but over the years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with business networking. Forcing conversations in a large room full of complete strangers isn’t exactly what I would call “fun.” But it doesn’t have to be a source of anxiety. 

    These 6 tips for practicing the power of empathy can turn business networking into a tolerable —maybe even enjoyable—event.

    1. Take a Deep Breath, Relax, and Smile

    There is nothing more disarming than a smile. When you smile at someone, you’re saying, “It is safe to speak with me,” “I am your friend,” and perhaps, “We’re in this together.” Smiling in the context of networking says, “I understand you are as uncomfortable as I am right now, but let’s talk for a minute and have some fun with this.” And remember, smiling just feels better—to you and to everyone around you. So relax and lead with a smile, and you’ll be off to an excellent start.

    2. Make and Maintain Eye Contact

    The eyes may be the window to the soul, but I would argue further that the eyes are an indicator of a present and empathetic soul. These days, when people are often disengaged, staring at their phones, you send a powerful message by looking someone squarely in the eye. You are saying, “I am paying attention,” “I am here,” and most importantly, “I am listening to you.” This simple skill will not only make you feel more confident and appear more empathetic, but it will make the person you are speaking with feel important.

    3. Ask Questions

    Don’t be a “Me Monster.” In almost any social setting, the quickest way to turn people off is to talk excessively about yourself. “I do…I think…my company…” This is the antithesis of empathy. Instead, ask numerous questions—about their company, their role, and their customers. Non-business questions are fine as well, such as asking about their interests or their hometown. There is no better way to endear yourself to someone than to simply give them the floor to talk about themselves for a minute. As you listen, look for common ground. Does your company work with similar clients? Do you deal with similar challenges and responsibilities? Are you familiar with the area where they live or work? Keep the focus on them and look for commonalities within your dialogue.

    4. Make Your Elevator Pitch Relevant

    You are at a networking event to make business contacts and promote your skills and/or company. So you’ll want to practice your 30-second elevator pitch so it rolls off your tongue effortlessly, succinctly hitting the most compelling highlights of your value proposition. And make it relevant. Do you work with any clients in a similar vertical to the individual you are speaking with? Do you work directly with people who have similar roles? Does your company or your work dovetail in any way with their business? If so, noting those commonalities and tailoring your pitch accordingly will show you are astute, thoughtful, attentive, and interested in them (even while talking about yourself).

    5. Aspire to Active Listening

    Empathetic communication requires an element of active listening, which involves listening with all senses and giving full attention to the speaker. It includes strong eye contact, smiling, mirroring, and attentive posture and body language. It requires full concentration on what is being said, avoiding distractions. You don’t have to be a master at active listening; simply understanding what it is and aspiring to it will make you a memorable communicator. Like an excellent elevator pitch, being a great listener—an active listener—takes practice, but the rewards can be immense.

    6. Remember Their Name

    It sounds so simple and obvious, but remembering someone’s name is a big deal. How many times have you heard, or said, “I am terrible with names”? The fact is, forgetting someone’s name is a sign of self-importance and mental laziness. One easy trick is to call someone by their name several times during the conversation. Another is to quickly associate their face with someone else you know with the same name. If you want to make someone feel important, make the effort, concentrate, and remember their name.
     
    These 6 tips may help make business networking less stressful, more fun and productive, and might even propel your career. Give them a try! And if you have some other tips on empathy in business networking, we’d love to hear from you—please share with us at info@trellist.com.

    Learn more of how Trellist approaches new and evolving business problems by checking out the rest of our blogs here.

     

     

Insights posts by: Tim Reeder

Tim Reeder

With more than 16 years of frontline experience managing sales and marketing teams in the B2B and B2C digital media spaces, Tim is responsible for developing and maintaining strong client partnerships built on the revenue-driving solutions that Trellist offers.