“The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”
– Meryl Streep
ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: For a long time we have encouraged clients to live an empathic life by being involved in charitable and civic matters, because it is good for their careers. And, of course, it is contributes to the welfare of our entire society.
More and more, it seems, employers are seeking out those who exhibit empathy as a valuable and scarce business advantage. That is because the view is growing that you simply can’t serve the needs of customers unless you understand and appreciate what “moves” them to purchase your product or service, and then to come back for more.
The following article on this very topic appeared in Fortune Magazine on September 22, 2014, and addresses the importance of empathy in business, employment and career.
“Employers are Looking for New Hires with Something Extra: Empathy”
By Jeff Colvin
“Infotech executives are starting to talk funny, and we all need to pay attention. “Designing emotion into the product is now something you really have to think about explicitly and measure yourself against,” said Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, the maker of personal finance and small-business software. He’s telling me what it takes to win in his business today. When he and his colleagues test software, they mark it up with “happy faces or puzzled faces so the developers understand the emotion we were feeling at the time.” Really? For software that keeps the books?
“I need great product designers, and IT people aren’t always great at aesthetics,” says the CIO of one of Europe’s largest retailers at a conference in Berlin recently, describing his hiring challenges. “And I need people who are empathetic and collaborative. I can’t have a great IT Architect who has to be locked in a room.” Excuse me? Isn’t that where code writers are most at home: alone in a dimly lit room, a crumpled bag of chips at their side?
“We’re hiring artists, special-effects creators, and people who understand beauty,” says Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, a maker of enterprise software. We’re at his headquarters in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, where he’s describing his strategy for competing against industry giants Oracle and SAP. Infor, he says, offers “beautiful business software for your business processes.” This, for software that has long occupied the boiler room of corporate infotech.
The clear trend here is not some fad in the software industry. A mushrooming demand for employees with affective, non-logical abilities spans the economy. Empathy – sensing at a deep level the feelings and thoughts of others – is the foundation. “Non-cognitive skills and attributes such as team working, emotional maturity, empathy, and other interpersonal skills are as important as proficiency in English and mathematics,” reports an advisory group of executives and educators on education reform in the U.K. When author George Anders searched for online job postings that paid over $100,000 a year and specified empathy or empathic traits, he quickly found 1,000 of them from companies as varied as Barclays Capital, McKinsey, and Mars.
It’s happening for several reasons. Partly it’s a search for differentiation in a world where many products and services are becoming commoditized. From computers to refrigerators to websites, they mostly work fine and are reliable enough. How will yours distinguish itself? Intuit’s Smith knows the question to ask: “Did it leave me with a positive emotion?”
More and more, CEO’s are concluding that to compete and win, they first need to understand the customer’s inner experience. Their employees need empathy. And that trait 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, say researchers from the University of Michigan and University of Rochester Medical Center. Other research gives little reason to believe it will increase as they grow older.
And that brings us to a different issue. We have evolved exquisitely to connect in person. Consider what happens when you’re near someone and his or her face displays an emotion fleetingly, through a so-called micro-expression. Your own face mimics that expression within milliseconds, and the other person, in turn, detects your response. You have empathized without either one of you being aware of it – but it doesn’t happen if you’re alone in your cube. Which, virtually speaking or not, is where many of us spend out time these days. As work becomes dominated by technology, our individual worlds become increasingly cognitive and virtual, lacking face-to-face contact.
That may be why IT companies are at the vanguard of this new movement in corporate management: Getting ahead in tech today requires, among other skills, seeing the world from outside the cube. Empathy, emotion, and beauty aren’t as easy to measure as other metrics of employee performance. But to use another affect-laden term, it’s time to embrace them.
LESSON TO LEARN: What is valuable to an employer? Whatever is valuable to that employer’s customer. Show you understand how to understand people and make them feel you are on their side, and you are halfway to being hired. Business is not just numbers; it’s a lot about chemistry, too.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Empathy is one of those things that you really can’t fake. Either you are “there,” or you are not “there.” But you can try to cultivate the degree to which you both practice and show empathy.
On your resume’ and in interviews, don’t hide your caring and charitable side. Be interested in the person you speak with. Understand that “being left with a positive emotion” is what it is all about.
And even if you are one who doesn’t care too much for others, and see empathy as naïve or foolish, at least you now know that you are missing out on something very important to your employer, very important in your career, and perhaps very important in your life.
It’s surely worth giving it some serious thought.
It pays to be polite! Use our Model Letter After Interview; with Later Follow Up. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It™. To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!
P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.[jobsearch]
SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the bumps in the road. Understanding that empathy is a positive career attribute may well be an important part of that insight, knowledge and understanding you need.
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*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.
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