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Why Empathy Is One of the Most Overlooked Skills in Business

Empathy fuels productive conversations.

Aytekin TankVIP CONTRIBUTOREntrepreneur; Founder and CEO, JotForm 06/11/20

It was a sunny day in April. The air was crisp and the walk ahead of us enjoyable.

I stared at the beautiful Embarcadero situated near our San Francisco office, feeling grateful for working close to such a stunning view.

Then I shifted my gaze over to Tim, my walking mate for the afternoon. We were on one of many walking meetings we’d shared over the past year. But this time was different.

Tim, a normally talkative employee, was dragging his heels and appeared disgruntled whenever I asked for status updates. He kept his head down, answering only in curt replies.

Something was off.

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As his supervisor, I could have easily approached his behavior with a stern stance, by grilling him, or asserting my authority. But 14-plus years of entrepreneurship have taught me one thing: A harsh, adversarial response is never the answer.

Instead, I slowed my pace and asked him how things were going at home. “Is everything OK?”

Tim confided then that his father had recently had a stroke, and that he was taking turns spending nights at the hospital, leaving him tense and run-down.

I nodded. “I’m so sorry, that sounds very hard.”

“How can I support you?” I offered.

We spent some time talking over how to alleviate some of his load at work, and even scheduled some days off for him to be with his family.

After our conversation, it was as if a weight had been lifted. In our meeting afterward, he began eagerly participating, even offering feedback I hadn’t asked for.

Showing genuine care and concern only took a few seconds of my time, but it was enough to let Tim know that I was on his side. 

Related: How Companies Are Leading With Empathy

One of the most overlooked skills in business

Empathy — the capacity to recognize and understand other people’s feelings, to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” is a critical leadership skill. Common sense tells us that it’s a basic human quality most founders would have in their arsenal, but in fact, it’s one that many leaders often get wrong.

In a commencement speech on June 15, 2014, American business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates, stood before an audience of Stanford grads and spoke of channeling optimism into a conviction to make things better.

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“If we have optimism, but we don’t have empathy,” he said, “then it doesn’t matter how much we master the secrets of science. We’re not really solving problems; we’re just working on puzzles.”

This has been true to my experience as the CEO of my company JotForm. We started with one goal: Create a drag-and-drop tool that enabled people to quickly build forms, even if they didn’t know how to code. As a software engineer, I’ll be the first one to say I’m the biggest nerd I know. I enjoy taking a complex issue and making it easy and accessible.

I’ve had the privilege of growing our small startup to a business with over 250 employees and seven million users worldwide.

And what I’ve learned from being a founder all these years is that people, not software, matter most. Connecting with our team and our customers is the real vision that keeps us moving forward.

I believe the secret to our success lies in empathy.

Beyond sympathy

Our culture admires a certain business stereotype: the die-hard leaders who push the envelope and only care about themselves. But at what price?

A shortage of empathy in the workplace accounts for an increasing lack of employee engagement, which impacts productivity. This costs businesses more than $600 billion per year.

How does this happen? Simple: by confusing empathy with sympathy.

Sympathizing — feeling sorry for an employee’s situation isn’t the same as understanding their feelings and needs, or building rapport.

Instead of becoming annoyed with their employees or commanding them to pick up the slack, effective leaders know how to express themselves by showing real concern and asking how they can improve the situation.

While valuable, sympathy is only a surface-level response that keeps you at a distance.

Empathy, on the other hand, is a perspective shift — it’s genuinely imagining yourself being in the other person’s shoes, and allows you to connect on a deeper level.

 

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Related: You Must Lead With Empathy to Achieve These 5 Crucial …

Empathy fuels productive conversations

“As a leader, you should always start with where people are before you try to take them where you want them to go.” – Jim Rohn, Entrepreneur and Author

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that empathy is something you’re either born with or not. But as CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, emphasizes, empathy is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

Nadella, who went through numerous personal challenges — trying to obtain a green card to come to the United States, building a new life for himself and his family, adjusting to his children’s disabilities — all of these struggles gave him the emotional insight and sensibility to create a collaborative company culture.

He didn’t just relate to employees and customers on an intellectual level, he understood that everyone needs to feel supported in one way or another.

Empathy isn’t only human and caring; it’s also practical, as Peter Bregman points out in a story for Harvard Business Review. It can turn a confrontational conversation into a collaborative one — allowing all parties to arrive at a shared truth.

When we can take our hard lessons learned and channel them into the ways we communicate with our team, we foster engagement. We do this by actively listening, being open to feedback, and approaching employees with attention and care.

“Empathize first,” Bregman writes. “It doesn’t take long, and it’s not complicated. Just start with the relationship — even if you don’t feel like you have an established one — because showing care and concern is what creates that relationship.”

Simply asking if someone is OK is enough to let them know you’re willing to show up when it counts.

Related: 3 Ways Increasing Your Empathy Makes You a More Effective Leader

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The Wealthy and Everyone Else

Originally written and published on 04/27/20 by Grant Cardone

It’s not a secret I have always been interested in wealth. Since I was a little kid and watched my mother worry about money I have been interested in learning what the wealthy knew that we didn’t know. I have spent a lifetime studying the differences and been lucky enough to adopt some of the principles that separate the wealthy from almost everyone else.

In one month twenty-six million people in the USA lost their jobs and even more had their pay reduced…the stock market lost trillions in valuation, people worldwide are concerned about their finances and their health…and thirty two million businesses in America had their revenues either stopped or interrupted.

While money won’t buy you happiness, it’s the only thing that pays the rent, health care, toilet paper, mask, food and the like. Unfortunately during this time, like any other crisis, the wealthy will get wealthier and everyone else will end up with less. It’s sad but it’s true. And this redistribution has been happening since the Great Depression (or before) and it makes me question again, how the wealthy treat money differently than others.

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HERE ARE MY TEN OBSERVATIONS OF HOW THE WEALTHY VIEW AND TREAT MONEY DIFFERENTLY THAN OTHERS.

The Wealthy                               Everyone Else

1. Money is Good                         1. Money is Bad

2. Investors                                   2. Spenders

3. Uses Debt                                 3. Used by Debt

4. Money & Happiness               4. Money or Happiness

5. Tax Savvy                                  5. Tax Victims

6. Seeking Freedom                    6. Seeking Comfort

7. Buys Time                                7. Sells Time

8. Multiple Flows                         8. Single Flow of Income

9. Wealth Driven                         9. Income Driven

10. Opportunity Focused           10. Obstacle Focused

I am sure there is more you can add to this list. Add your favorite difference in comments and if you have a question I will do my best to answer. I wrote a book called The Millionaire Booklet that covers these difference in detail and you can get it free.

I trust you will get through this time and are in a better position on the other side.

One more big difference between the wealthy and the non-wealthy is the ability to execute.

In Atlanta, Working Even Harder for Clients Affected by Riots and Looting

They see their small-business clients suffering–and they fear being judged by the actions of others–but Lyfe Marketing’s co-founders are doubling down on optimism and faith in other entrepreneurs.

BY CAMERON ALBERT-DEITCH, REPORTER, INC.@C_ALBERTDEITCH

As nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans by police continue, Inc. has asked black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.

The founders of Atlanta-based Lyfe Marketing were on a high-flying growth trajectory, overseeing digital marketing for more than 400 small businesses and landing the No. 299 spot on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing companies. But in the past week, Keran Smith and brothers Sean Standberry and Sherman Standberry watched many of their clients suffer from looting sprees. Below, they describe living and working in that atmosphere–and how they will help their community move forward. –As told to Cameron Albert-Deitch

Sherman Standberry: It’s definitely tense. We all live in midtown Atlanta, and this week, I literally saw protests crowding the street that I live on. Businesses by our office building are being vandalized and destroyed. Emotions are definitely high in the city.

It’s tense over the racial issues, and then marrying that with the pandemic: Atlanta had a spike in cases a few weeks ago, so it’s really weird seeing these huge crowds of people gathering despite the health concerns.

Smith: While I’m jogging down the street, I actively see military vehicles, military personnel blocking off highways. That’s something I’ve never seen before.

Sean Standberry: When I step outside my doors, I have this internal fear that I, as a black man, may be judged by the actions of others.

Internally, at our company, I feel really encouraged. We do stand for diversity, and we stand for equality, and our team is really just one unit. When we see stuff in the outside world fragment and pull apart, our team pulls together even stronger–communicating more, smiling more, uplifting each other more, putting inspirational quotes in chats, and stuff like that.

But it does worry me when I step outside of that environment and face the real world, so to speak.

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Smith: I think we’ve done a good job at doing our work when it’s time to do work. And then keeping any emotions we have outside of that, during that time. It’s a luxury to be able to do that. There are a lot of people who are protesting at 1 p.m. because that’s what they are called to do in that time.

Sean Standberry: The business has been an escape route. It’s something that I love. Just being able to escape in the world of business, work hard for a better future, is really the only thing that’s keeping me sane right now.

We stand for peaceful protests. We don’t stand for the opposite–the rioting and the looting. It’s truly something that’s destroying our community before our eyes. It’s hurting small businesses, and that’s the part that directly affects us, because our mission as an agency is to help small businesses grow.

We’ve had several clients who’ve been abused by rioters. I got a call this week from a client with many offices downtown in Atlanta. They’ve all been broken into, looted. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible, as understanding as possible, with clients like that. We’re likely going to have to pause advertising campaigns, stop marketing, and just try to give our clients solutions in terms of how to get back on their feet.

Sherman Standberry: I don’t think our roles as leaders have changed. If anything, it reemphasized what I care about. For me personally, as a black business owner, I’ve always known the risk and the challenges that we face. I use my voice to encourage people–and in some cases, explain to people how to best deal with it in a peaceful way.

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Smith: Now more than ever, equality is important. Diversity is important. Loving everyone equally is important. Diversity of a company’s infrastructure is important, because it promotes loving everyone equally. If your company, your board, your team doesn’t have a diverse nature, what does that say to the world around you? Your actions in this time promote what you believe.

Sean Standberry: We move forward with more hope, more optimism that the entrepreneurs and small businesses we work with aren’t pushover types of people. These are fighters. They’re going to keep going to work, keep repairing. They’re going to figure out how to operate even when it doesn’t look possible. We’ll support them in any way we can.

Minneapolis Restaurateur Is Putting Values Above Profits

Tomme Beevas turned his Minneapolis eatery into a donation center for those affected by the protests, and persevered in the face of threats.

 

Restaurateur Tomme Beevas co-founded his Twin Cities-based Pimento Jamaican Kitchen




BY EMILY CANAL, STAFF WRITER, INC.COM@EMILYCANAL June 3rd, 2020

In the wake of nationwide protests against the killing of black Americans by police, Inc. asked black business leaders in or near hot zones to tell us what they are experiencing.

Tomme Beevas co-founded his Twin Cities-based Pimento Jamaican Kitchen with just a gas grill and a $99 tent from Target. The Jamaican native moved to the U.S. in 1999 to study economics and political science. He would come home from his corporate job–leading community involvement at Cargill–and fire up his backyard grill to create the tastes of home. It ignited a business. Beevas and his neighbor Yoni Reinharz launched Pimento Jamaican Kitchen in 2012 and quickly gained recognition–the duo won on the Food Network’s reality competition show Food Court Wars a year later. Now the pair have a Minneapolis restaurant, a St. Paul eatery, an outpost in the Minneapolis TCF Bank Stadium, and a food truck. The company has grown revenue by20 percent annually and booked more than $2 million in revenue last year, Beevas told Inc. 

On Sunday, Beevas and his team turned the Minneapolis location into a donation and staging center for essential supplies like masks, gloves, food, and water. The protests made it difficult for people to get crucial goods, prompting Beevas to issue a call on Twitter asking for supplies. He shares how he’s faced threats against his business and how he’s continued to give back to his community. –As told to Emily Canal

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Since Covid-19, we’ve had to close our St. Paul location. We also haven’t been able to open our stadium location or food truck this year. We had carryout at our Minneapolis location and were allowed to slowly open on June 1. 

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The next pandemic we had to focus on was black people being murdered by police officers in this country. We’ve traditionally stayed out of it, but it’s gone on for too long now. Why should I stay quiet to protect my business when people are already on the front lines trying to protect my life? What’s the purpose of having a business if I don’t have a life? 

 

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We saw the need to step up. We closed the restaurant’s food services on Sunday to focus on relief services. Neighbors and people from around the world have been sending Amazon orders filled with things our community needs. We’re getting supplies and passing them directly to our community because grocery stores are closed. We’ve been able to feed 2,000 neighbors between Thursday and Tuesday. 

We knew that by putting ourselves out there, we would naturally be a target. We planned for that. We know there are people out there who don’t want to see a black business or a black business leader have this much influence. By being in a leadership [role] and taking care of our community, there are people who are like, “That’s not the way that should be.”

There have been numerous messages about people targeting us. But we haven’t had anyone successfully attack us directly. We’re fully prepared. We’re protecting people first and protecting the property second. The only reason we are protecting the property is because it’s a symbol for the community. Because of the resources for our community that we have in our facility. We’re ensuring that the people who need food can get the supplies and equipment that have been donated.

Locals donate essential goods for community members affected by the protests in Minneapolis.  inline image

Locals donate essential goods for community members affected by the protests in Minneapolis. CAITLIN ABRAMS

Someone posted a video of an employee on TikTok and the comments range from “great that you’re doing that” to “he’s looting” and “we need to take this guy out.” 

As a black man in America, we have always lived with the threats and comments being made. In my ultra-liberal, ultra-educated, and ultra-affluent community, I fear taking my garbage out every single night. The fear that I could be targeted, or the restaurant could be targeted, is an everyday occurrence in our lives in America. That’s why we’re at the forefront ensuring that it never happens again. I think it’s about damn time all of us are able to walk in peace in our neighborhood and not fear our own neighbors calling the police on us. 

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I lost a former employee to police brutality. I’d always known him to have mental health issues. He had his neighbors call the police because he was threatening to hurt himself. The police came, and before they even engaged him, he was dead. They killed him. That is the reality that is pervasive within our society. 

We are in this for the long haul; we’re going to solve this permanently. Not just for convictions [of policemen who have committed crimes], but we’re also expecting a change in legislation ensuring we have long-term, sustainable peace and safety for all citizens in Minneapolis.

BY EMILY CANAL, STAFF WRITER, INC.COM@EMILYCANAL