Empathy; it’s a declining trait in today’s workplace and, according to a recent study, society in general. And that’s a shame because in a people-driven environment like the recruitment industry, learning and developing empathic skills can be a huge boost to your client, candidate and colleague relationships.
In 2007 the Center for Creative Leadership, having analysed data from nearly 7,000 managers representing 38 countries, found that empathy positively correlated to job performance rating, while in 1997 L’Oreal discovered that those salespeople with a higher level of empathy significantly outsold their less empathic peers by nearly $100,000 annually.
So what do we mean by empathy?
Simply put, it’s the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings and experiences. Asking a question such as ‘How would I feel if that happened to me?’ is to empathise; to take a look at a situation from another person’s point of view.
Empathy fuels connection – it’s essential to the process of forming and managing relationships, and relating to those around you in a positive way.
In a recruitment context, the use of empathy can help you to motivate those around you through the understanding of their needs and goals. It can enable you to better communicate with your clients, candidates and colleagues, and it will guide you to consider how others perceive you through your actions and words. While we can’t know for sure what someone else is feeling, empathy is incredibly valuable because it can be used to understand our relationship with others and decide how best to respond without rushing to judgement.
The results of a study conducted by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Inc. show that empathy in our society is on the decline. The authors of this study suggest that this could be due in part to the increase of social media platforms, and technology which revolves around personal needs and self-expression; for example, mobile devices that provide us with internet access, games and music wherever we may be. In essence, we’re becoming a more self-focussed society.
Additionally, in the fast-paced, deadline-driven, target-meeting world of recruitment it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed, and this can lead to us becoming self-absorbed with an, albeit inadvertent, disregard for the needs and feelings of others.
‘I’ve been so busy lately…’
Let’s look at some simple examples. Here’s something that we’ve all been guilty of at some point or another:
You realise that you haven’t contacted a client about a job brief you’ve been trying to fill, so you pick up the phone, apologise and tell them that you’ve just been so busy lately…
It’s a common excuse and probably the truth, but now put yourself on the other end of the phone and consider what the client could be thinking. Is it likely to be:
‘Oh, that’s terrible, that poor person must be run off their feet!’
Or is it more likely that your apology could be interpreted as:
‘I’ve just been so busy recently with clients who are a lot more important to me than you?’
A client may not say anything to you directly, but by using this one common, throw-away excuse, you could well be making them believe that you don’t consider their job brief your top priority, and aren’t doing anywhere near your best to try to fill it. Even if you don’t consider them a top priority, every client needs to feel that they’re the one you’re working the hardest for. It’s one of the basics of customer service — the best kind of client is a happy client!
You also need to remember that everyone is busy, including your clients. It’s highly unlikely that they will have been twiddling their thumbs whilst waiting for you to fill their job brief, but by giving them this excuse when they call you, the intimation is there.
The best approach here is to simply not give an excuse at all. In most cases, a sincere apology will be enough for the client, and you can then go on to ask them if they’ve had a good week before getting straight down to the nitty-gritty.
‘I’ve been on holiday’
You’ve been away on holiday for a week, and on the day you return to work you receive a call from a currently unemployed candidate for whom you’ve been trying to find a suitable job fit. They ask if there’s been any progress, and you tell them that you’ve been away on holiday so are still catching up with all the emails that have come through in the past week…
Another frequently-used and valid excuse, but again, put yourself on the other end of the phone. In this case, it’s likely that the candidate could be thinking that you’re not very organised, and wondering if you view their job search in the same way. Worse still, you could be flaunting the fact that you’re able to afford to take time off work and go on holiday when this candidate may actually be struggling to make ends meet, and if this is the case you’ve immediately alienated him.
Yes, it’s always hard catching up when you come back off holiday and it does take a little while to get yourself back into ‘work mode’, but the best thing to do here is to plan an hour or so at the start of the day to go through your emails and communications without distraction, making note of all the tasks that will require your attention. Organisation is key, and once you’ve caught up on the details, you won’t need to give this excuse.
First things first
The good news is that empathy can be developed. However, it’s difficult to begin to practice it if your work day is stressed, because you’re ultimately concentrating on yourself and your own needs.
Gavin Ingham, author of three sales books and the UK’s leading expert on sales psychology, says that those who have difficulty with time management are often reactive, allowing activities that demand attention to determine what they work on. “If we want to be successful, what we need to be able to do is take back control of the activity, take back control of what we do”, says Ingham.4
Bearing this in mind, you may find that it will help a great deal to organise your work days by planning them out, and structuring them to ensure that you stay in control.
Any media that involves characters — such as books or films — will help you to practice your empathic skills. Ask yourself what the characters may think and feel, why they’re reacting to situations in certain ways, or what motivates them to behave in the way they do. This will help you to learn to see circumstances from a viewpoint other than your own, to place yourself in someone else’s shoes.
You can also try this exercise while waiting for a bus, or travelling on the train – pay close attention to a stranger’s posture, expression and attitude, and try to imagine where they might be going, what they could be doing or perhaps what they are feeling on that particular day.
With practice, you’ll soon find that you can apply these skills to your own daily interactions, setting yourself well on the way to becoming a better recruiter, manager, and all-round people person. And in an industry driven by the need to make connections, this can only be a good thing.