Tag Archives: civil unrest

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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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.