The role of empathy in an industry that's all about being tough

By Ashley Pace, Generation Next
Governor at Large

Truck Bodies & Equipment International Inc.

This article was originally published in the October 2020 edition of Generation Next Edition.

Empathy is the ability to understand the viewpoints of another. I think we can all agree that “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” is important in life, but what is the role of empathy in the workplace – and when should it be employed? In the commercial vehicle industry – an industry whose products are all about being “tough” – is it possible we sometimes get into the mistaken mindset that we are meant to be as rugged and tough as our products?

I think if you polled everyone in your organization, you would find 99% of people want to be seen as strong leaders, and firm in their decisions. And I think you would also find the belief that the use of empathy in day-to-day business practices as contrary to that goal. However, I think empathy is a little misunderstood, and I argue that utilizing empathy as a business tool can make us better decision makers, drive results and impact the bottom line.

I’m not arguing that empathy should be the only tool utilized in business, but I challenge you with this: if we filter every project we’re working on and every business decision we’re making through the lens of empathy, we can create better outcomes and make more informed decisions.

Who cares, and why?

In marketing, empathy is also known as considering your audience. This is crucial to my role as a marketer, so much so that I employ my “empathy tool” daily, without even thinking. In marketing, you always, always, have to consider the audience. No matter what tactic or strategy we are creating, we always ask: “Who cares about this?” –and– “Why do they care?” Without those two empathy-inducing questions, without putting yourself into the audience’s shoes, marketing is ineffective and a waste of money. You may say – well yes, that’s a given in marketing, but how would I use empathy in engineering, accounting or administration?

Here’s where it gets fun: filtering every project or decision through the lens of empathy can be used in every department by every. single. person. It’s as simple as those two questions: “Who cares?” And “Why?”

In the coming weeks are you looking to present a project, make an internal process change, develop a new product, or have a meeting with a colleague? I challenge you to ask yourself “Who cares” and “Why do they care” before taking that next step, sending that email, or having that meeting. If you can position yourself into your manager’s/customer’s/coworker’s shoes, you will find an understanding of their viewpoint that helps you form a sounder argument, effect lasting change, develop products customers care about, and hold efficient meetings.

Does this mean that every decision or project needs to be developed solely based on your audience’s viewpoint or desires? No. In many cases, empathy is best employed to help craft the delivery of a message that you already know the audience won’t like. Taking the step to employ empathy and asking yourself “why do they care” can give you the forethought to prepare your message in a palatable way for your audience, or at least head off their objections.

Empathy is a business tool. I urge you to take a moment to consider it today - to use it in your work. You may just find that by taking a walk in someone else’s shoes, you’re a better decision maker who drives results and impacts the bottom line.