Consider the Iceberg

brown wooden blocks on white surface

Empathy.  The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  What are the chances of getting business leaders to embrace it?  I think many, if not most, will grumble that it’s too touchy-feely for the workplace.  Others will spout off that they don’t have any more money for some crazy HR flavor-of-the-month.  “Besides,” they will mutter, “is this really necessary, does it make revenue, does it make me more profitable, do my competitors have it?”

Think about it.  Do we need empathy in business?  Do we need to have the ability to understand and share the feelings of others?  Can’t people just go through the motions?  You know, smile, shake hands, be nice, show people where the dress shirts are, check them out with another smile and say thanks, can’t we just do that?

That’s what a lot of businesses do, they train a checklist of things and hope their employees behave that way, but does it work?  Look around at the service you get.  Does it work?  I would say, without reservation, “no!”

Why doesn’t it work?  Because you can’t teach a checklist and hope to make people understand and share the feeling of others, and that, empathy, is what business needs to deliver service that makes a difference.  And if you’re a business leader who is grumbling any of those things above, think again, wouldn’t you like to have employees who really care about customers, or better yet, who really care about you, your business and their jobs?  Without empathy, this becomes almost impossible.

So how do you begin to move people in the direction of empathy?  I often teach a principle based on the idea of the iceberg.  It is a simple idea.  Think of an iceberg.  Most of the thing is underwater where we can’t see it.  The little piece at the top only tells a tiny bit of the story.  If you want to begin to empathize, you must consider the iceberg, all of those things you can’t see that contribute to the way people are behaving.

All of us have things going on in our lives, spouses, bosses, children, work, traffic, crabgrass, tired, headache, you name it, and they influence how we interact.  The same goes for employees, customers, family and friends.  When we consider the fact that what we see is only a small bit of what’s really going on, it can help us to move to behave more considerately and to be more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Ask yourself how this might help your business?  How might it make your workplace more civil, more productive, more team oriented, more creative, more innovative?  How might it help your frontline employees deliver genuine service rather than the scripted, fake stuff offered by your competitor?  How might it change things?

Empathy, considering people’s icebergs, how could it change things?  Think about it.

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