Why Empathy is a Game-changer

Imagine what life would be like without empathy.

No, really, close your eyes and think about it for a moment. How would your daily interactions be different?

Like that time you rushed into work 20 minutes late, out of breath, sweating when your junker of a car wouldn’t start. You were already skating on thin ice with your boss but she let it slide because she understood what it was like to be in a jam.

If she hadn’t shown you empathy, but instead shut down and soldiered on like a robot—where would you be now? {cough, unemployed, cough}

Empathy is invaluable for your human connections and can be a game-changer for your business. When you view the choices you’re making through the perspective of others it brings out your natural best.

What is empathy?

a young woman with large blue eyes looks out with empathy

The Wikipedia definition of empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. Or, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Empathy happens when you imagine “putting yourself in the other person’s shoes” or “seeing things through someone else’s eyes.”

In client service, empathy is the ability to have a human interaction with a client. It’s seeing past the anger, the frustration and the situation at hand. Using empathy, you’re able to relate to how your client is feeling and in doing so, you’re better able to serve them.

Being empathetic towards someone doesn’t necessarily mean you’re agreeing with them. It means you understand their truth.

Having empathy for people—whether it’s your co-workers, clients or complete strangers—does more than give you an understanding of what another person is going through. It allows you to better serve your clients and develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with everyone you come into contact with.

Did you know there are three types of empathy?

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. You may have thought you nailed it when you shed a few tears alongside a long-term client after her bad breakup—but that emotional connection might not be the best way to show your empathy.

Here are the three types of empathy, including the one you should focus on perfecting:

Cognitive empathy → is being able to put yourself into someone else’s place and see their perspective—it’s ‘empathy by thought’, rather than by feeling.

This form of empathy is great if you’re headed into negotiations (you’re looking to lease a new space for your shop or get another week of vacation). It lets you put yourself into someone else’s shoes, but without engaging with their emotions.

The downside to cognitive empathy is there’s no real “feeling” part to it…which is the key to true empathy.

Emotional empathy → is when you feel the other person’s emotions right alongside them. It’s almost as though you’ve “caught” their emotions.

Emotional empathy can be good and bad. Good because you’re able to understand and feel other people’s emotions; bad when you become overwhelmed by those feelings, and lose your ability to react.

Compassionate empathy → is our standard definition of empathy. Feeling someone’s pain, and then taking the appropriate action to help.

This form of empathy is usually the most appropriate. Most people (whether they be clients, friends or co-workers) who need your empathy don’t only need you to understand (cognitive empathy), or only feel their pain (emotional empathy). What they need is someone who can feel what they’re going through and help them through it.

Related: Some Practical Thoughts on Impostor Syndrome

Empathy is essential to the survival of your business

a close up of two peoples hands and they are talking

In most workplaces, keeping your emotions on lockdown is encouraged if not outright rewarded. However, when the environment comes from a place of empathy (from the top down), your staff becomes comfortable enough to raise their hand and say:

  • “I’m not sure what I’m doing.”
  • “I need help with this.”
  • “I’ve made a mistake.”
  • “I’m scared.”
  • “I feel anxious.”

Rather than always feeling the need to be right, in charge or winning/succeeding – you realize you’re free to bring your authentic self to work. You’re allowed to reach your natural best, without the pressure to perform to an unattainable level.

On the client-side, empathy can help you develop and market your services successfully.

You should observe how your clients are using your services or responding to new products (ex. Are they really falling in love with that new $500 Dyson hairdryer you brought in?) When you listen to how they talk about what they desire, or the struggles they’re coming up against, it becomes easier to grow your business.

The truth is, if you don’t start using empathy to listen to your clients it can have devastating consequences. You need only look to Blockbuster losing out to Netflix, taxi companies to Uber and travel agencies to Expedia. If you don’t begin to ask and observe what your clients are craving, they’ll look elsewhere until they find it.

Need a bit more proof?

It’s good for your reputation 

Showing you care about your clients can increase your sales. When your shop shows a personal interest in your repeat clientele, you’re going to make a lasting impression. It can be as simple as sending an email for their birthday {even better, an actual card} or maybe you have a killer in-shop program that rewards your clients for choosing you time and again.

The more touch-points you have to show you care, the more likely your clients will be to spread the word about how amazing you are to friends and family.

Empathy helps you understand your clients

When you ask clients how they are or show a genuine interest in their lives, you’ll gain two things:

  1. A more well rounded, in-depth understanding of your clients
  2. You’ll be able to provide your clients with what they need to make their lives easier

If you practice empathy every day within each of your interactions you’ll be able to do these two things.

Empathy helps to diffuse conflicts quickly

You already know empathy means putting yourself in others’ shoes; imagine how effective this could be during a heated situation with a client. Visualize how you would feel if the tables turned, look at the conflict through your clients’ eyes.

The most effective way to show empathy is to listen to your clients’ issues and then repeat back to them what you’ve heard to be the problem along with their associated feelings.

For example: “So, you’re unhappy because you think your appointment should cost X, instead of X — is that right?” Make sure you wait for confirmation of your reading of the situation.

Now, showing empathy doesn’t mean you agree with the other person and it doesn’t mean you have to accept what they’re saying. You also don’t want to make them feel any worse about the situation you both find yourselves in.

You’re acknowledging the issue and the feeling that goes along with it. Once that’s been confirmed, suggest a reasonable course of action to deal with the situation.

By doing this calmly and reasonably you can often diffuse a conflict situation quickly. Your client can work with you to find a solution that works for everyone.

Related: How to Set Boundaries at Work Like a Boss

How to show empathy in your business in 2020

a tattoist drawing a new piece on a clients chest

{Actively} listen to people

If you take one tip away from this entire blog post, let it be this—listen.

Listen with your ears, eyes, heart, brain—just listen. Don’t think about what you’re going to say in response or what you’re going to be eating for lunch in an hour. Be present. 

Try to pay attention to your client’s body language (up to 55% of all communication is non-verbal), listen to the tone of their voice and have a look at what their face is doing while your talking.

Are they saying how much they love their new haircut, meanwhile they averting their eyes and wringing their hands? You’ll miss this if you’re looking for your iPhone to snap a pic for the ‘gram.

On the same thread—don’t interrupt.

If you ask your client what they think about the new service you’ve introduced or a new tattoo healing cream they tried out—give them a chance to answer before you jump in with a follow-up question or response.

The same goes for when you’re chatting with your staff (or boss). I know that it’s easier said than done, but as a listener, you shouldn’t be formulating your response while someone is speaking to you.

Instead, listen and once they’re finished, let them know they’ve been heard by repeating your sense of what they’ve said back to them. This might also help give you pause before you rush to give advice or dismiss their concerns as “no big deal.” Give people their time to speak and more importantly—be heard.

Get a little personal with your clients

This one may be difficult for some of you, but it ties in nicely to listening. When you use someone’s name during a conversation, or when you greet them, it makes them feel special…so try it. Bonus points if you can also remember the names of your client’s spouse and/or children so you can drop their names too.

It can be next to impossible to store these details in the deep recesses of your brain to pull out when the time’s right.

>>>> Our Solution: an appointment app that lets you keep notes on each of your clients. This way, before their arrival you can check in on those little details you can use to make them feel special.

With BookedIN, you can pop into the app and make or view your client notes at any time—no more having to use your brain like an overstuffed Rolodex {<== remember those?}.

Dropping your clients’ name is the bare minimum when it comes to taking a personal interest. To show people you care and have a genuine curiosity in their lives, dive deeper with questions about their hobbies, challenges, upcoming experiences, and dreams. All perfect fodder for empathy.

It really is as simple as talking and listening to your clients and your staff.

Be genuinely interested in their lives, pay attention to how they’re doing and praise them for what they’re doing well. Check-in with them regularly and encourage them to speak up with their ideas.

Related: How to Wow Your Clients: 25 Ways to Stand Out from Your Competition

Give out lots of gold stars and high-fives

Pam and Jim high five the office

What’s the ratio in your business of praise to criticism? According to Simon Sinek, “Great leaders aren’t responsible for the job, they’re responsible for the people who are responsible for the job.”

If you look around your shop, do you feel your staff is comfortable being themselves? Are you asking if there’s “Anything I can do to help you do your job?” or simply “How are you?” Being an empathetic leader gives your staff the security to excel and perform at their best.

Pay attention to what your staff is doing and *catch* them doing the right things, rather than being on the hunt for wrongdoing. When you give positive feedback, make your words meaningful and personal: “Jane, that cut was perfection…

Your staff should have a chance to both create value (responsibility) and be of value (reward) at work.

When you recognize staff members rather than searching for ways to find ways they’ve messed up, you’ll establish trust and loyalty in an industry known for high turnover.

Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of the team and build a connection with each other—this process begins with empathy.

Always assume people are good

What do you do when it all goes to hell? Clients demanding refunds for color services, refusing to budge no matter how much empathy you show or staff fighting among themselves over perceived favoritism.

When things go sideways {and they will} or conflicts arise, always start with the assumption each person is doing their best and no one is looking to actively destroy you or your business.

Starting from this point of positive intent will improve your communication skills and increase your openness. Rather than turning to blame or shame, you’ll shift toward working together and finding a solution that works for everyone.

Break the golden rule

You remember the golden rule right? Do unto others as you want done to you. Well, sure, in theory, that sounds fab—but as we’ve realized, not everyone likes the same things we do, so that’s not going to work out for the best is it?

Instead of using your preferences to treat your staff, co-workers, and clients as you’d like to be treated; take time to understand their preferences. What are their likes, dislikes, their values? Once you figure that out, you can use the information to behave with empathy and respect.

>>>>> Bonus: Smile at people. This one’s easy-peasy. Life’s already hard enough for most of you. When you’re greeting your co-workers, your boss, your staff, or your clients—SMILE! It’ll make them feel warm & fuzzy and it’ll make you feel better too. I promise.

a man stands in front of a barbershop window

Break out your happy dance

We’ve covered the benefits of celebrating allllll the wins before, but it bears repeating. No matter how small, the victory matters. That little hit of dopamine to your brain, the feeling of camaraderie within your team—it’s all worth repeating as often as you can.

Whether it’s a celebration ringtone you play when you get a rave review from a client, a round of beers when your newest apprentice nails his first perfect bob or donuts in the break-room after the shop was named “Best In…”

It doesn’t matter as long as it marks a celebration and it’s meaningful to your team.

Show your humanity

Whaatt??!! I know, this goes against everything you’ve been told to do at work. But, how do you expect to foster strong connections if you don’t let anyone know how you’re feeling? It’s impossible to build trust, form relationships or show empathy, without getting *emotional.*

This doesn’t mean you need to cry or yell in anger at work, it means you need to be open. Don’t be a robot, show you have heart and be a human person.

Amplify the positive voices in the room

When you scroll social media it’s easy to believe everyone’s spending Christmas in Maui, drives a tricked out Range Rover, and has zero laugh lines. That’s because the loudest voices dominate the conversation, they hijack your perception of reality and {if you let them} make life a living hell for you and those in your vicinity.

Let’s look at an example that can throw the business you work so hard for into disarray:

One of your staffers starts gossiping to others about how you give preferential treatment to so-and-so, or how awful the clients are in your shop…

Now your other staff begins to believe that person is spouting the gospel—the majority opinion—when in fact, they’re the toxic minority. The longer your staff is subject to this “false reality” the harder it is to maintain a positive workspace. What you need to do is highlight the right behaviors.

If you focus on one or two individuals who are trying to tear apart your team, you’re fighting a losing battle. Instead, shine a light on those who are working together and making a conscious choice to act kindly to others.

They may not be dominating the conversation yet, but highlighting this empathy—via recognition, incentives, and rewards—will show the rest of your staff you’re putting the spotlight on positive as normal rather than negative.

>>>> We all know empathy is the right way to go.

It’s not only good for humanity but as you’ve been able to see, it can also be a game-changer for your shop.

These points above are but a handful of tips to create lasting bonds in your relationships and to build a more evolved {translation: successful} business.

As you know, to make a change, your first step is to want it. If you’re not willing to take the time to understand where others are coming from, your ship is as good as sunk.

When you take the time to understand your clients, staff, and co-workers, you’ll cultivate empathy which can have a lasting impact on your business. And not just on the bottom line.