A recent study of 15,000 leaders from 300+ organizations across eighteen countries by Development Dimensions International revealed that the conversational skill that has the highest impact on overall performance was empathy. Empathy however is in decline according to Richard Wellins, one of the authors of DDI’s report. He pointed to a University of Michigan study of college students which showed a 34-48% decline in empathy over an eight year period.
One reason proposed for this decline is our mobile world. People are increasingly engaging with people in such brief moments of time that the empathic skill is seldom practiced. In her book, “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World”, child psychologist, Michele Borba concurs. She suggests that as a result of technology, “Self-promotion, personal branding, and self-interest at the exclusion of others’ feelings, needs and concerns is permeating our culture and slowly eroding our children’s character.”
The DDI report also points out that managers spend more time managing than interacting thus limiting their ability to maintain and hone their empathic skills. According to their study, only 40% of frontline leaders tested either proficient or strong on empathy.
Why is empathy such a valued trait? For starters customers want to be heard and empathizing with your customers’ needs will help sellers determine what they want. Additionally empathy helps businesses understand cultural differences when operating in diverse global markets. In many companies collaboration is essential for success and empathy helps to not only foster relationships but also influences our power of persuasion.
The importance of empathy is further confirmed in a study out of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. A three year study of business leaders in the U.S. and other countries identified five attributes that executives must have to succeed in today’s global economy. Of the five, adaptability, cultural competence, 360-degree thinking, intellectual curiosity and empathy, empathy rated highest.
DDI’s study showed that in terms of relation to job performance, empathy had the greatest impact on engaging with employees, coaching them and their overall performance. Ray Krznaric, the author of Empathy: Why It Matters and How to Get It explains, “Empathy in the modern workplace is not just about being able to see things from another perspective. It’s the cornerstone of teamwork, good innovative design, and smart leadership. It’s about helping others feel heard and understood.”
So if you are reading this post right now on your phone and ignoring the person speaking with you, set it down, look into the eyes of your friend/colleague and show them they matter!