How “Empathy” Applies in Business

Over the past few years we’ve seen increasing references to the role of empathy in business. While some have embraced the idea, others have reacted with skepticism. Let’s take a step back and ask: Is there a role for empathy in business?
Consider Satya Nadella. Nadella succeeded Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft in early 2014. Almost immediately he raised the eyebrows of his top executives by giving them a reading assignment: Marshall Rosenberg‘s, Nonviolent Communications. The purpose of the assignment? To send the message that empathetic collaboration – and the culture change needed to achieve it – was central to his vision for refocusing and rejuvenating Microsoft.
That meant changing from a know-it-all culture to a learn-it-all culture. A culture that begins with the other person, and that values curiosity. That asks, in Nadella’s words, “Where is this person coming from? What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening?”
Nadella believes the role of empathy in business is not just to support understanding and collaboration between coworkers, but to deeply understand the customer’s perspective so as to provide products and services that resonate.
And who leads the way?
“The CEO is the curator of an organization’s culture,” he says. “Anything is possible for a company when it’s culture is about listening, learning, and harnessing individual passions and talents to the company’s mission. Creating that kind of culture is my chief job as CEO.”
Stronger morale, a reduction in infighting, and over $250 billion in incremental market value provide evidence in support of Nadella’s approach.
Empathy. Here’s how I like to define it:
Seeing through their eyes
Thinking in their minds
Feeling with their hearts
And if “their” includes our coworkers, customers, suppliers, and community – if empathy allows us to more deeply understand them – then, yes, there is a legitimate role for empathy in business.
Make it happen.

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