First, let’s get a definition of empathy:
• The ability to understand other people’s feelings and problems
Here’s another definition I like:
• The ability to understand how someone feels because you can imagine what it is like to be them
Let’s look at a simple incident that may happen at a dental practice.
Frank just had some dental work done. He makes his way to the front desk to pay for the service. Behind the desk is Sally who smiles when Frank arrives. She informs Frank, “Today’s bill will be $200.00” Frank looks a little confused, but gets out his credit card and gives it to Sally. She runs the card and gives Frank a receipt. He leaves the practice and goes home.
Frank gets home but he’s still a bit confused. Frank has a date later that night and he’s concerned he might still be in pain at that time. He realizes he should’ve asked Sally about pain killers, and if Sally didn’t know, she could check with the dentist before he left.
Now, that’s Frank’s end of it.
Sally’s end of it is this: She noticed Frank was a bit confused when she told him what his bill was. When Frank fished out his credit card and gave it to her, she decided, ‘oh, no big deal, he’s giving me his card.’
Now, if empathy is a strong suit with Sally, it could’ve gone this way:
When Sally noticed Frank was confused, she instantly asks, “Is there anything wrong, Frank? Anything I can help you with?” Frank expresses some concern about painkillers and Sally gets the dentist to come by and answer his questions.
Frank goes home with no confusions. If needed, he takes a painkiller and he takes the correct painkiller.
Without that additional information, Frank may end up taking a painkiller that wasn’t the right one for his situation. He goes on his date, he acts sluggish and an attempt to schedule a second date fails.
All in all, Frank is responsible for getting his questions answered, right? Of course, he is. But Sally, if she’s the empathetic type, is going to understand how Frank feels because she can imagine what it’s like to be Frank AND she’s going to take the time to find out what may be confusing him.
If Sally does take this extra step, Frank is a much better-serviced patient and, yes, he may even get a ‘yes’ when asking for that second date.
You get the point.
Empathy can make a huge difference when dealing with our customers, our clients, our patients. It can also make a huge difference in how employees get along with each other.
If someone shows up applying for a position and he has all of the right skills for that position, but perhaps lacks empathy, is that a deal-breaker? Well, if another person shows up, has essentially the same set of skills and IS able to understand other people’s feelings and problems, then that individual a better hire.
You may be thinking, “that’s all well and good, but how does one determine how much empathy a person has?”
You could ask an applicant this:
“What’s more important, having the right set of skills for a position or the ability to understand the feelings and problems of others?”
The correct answer is both. And that answer should come immediately. Any hesitation and your applicant may be a bit deficient in empathy. This of course is not a foolproof way of determining empathy, so I’m going to make a shameless plug here:
Our personality profile measures ten key traits, empathy being one of them. If you are not familiar with our test, watch our three-minute video. Below the video is a link where you can take a free test. You’ll get a chance to see how accurate the test is and you’ll be able to see what the test says your level of empathy is.