Empathy has long been a subject of interest in fields as various as psychology, sociology, neuroscience, robotics, marketing, and management. The ability to empathize is considered by many an extremely important determinant of success, which is why it has been studied from so many angles.

The definition of empathy depends on the context in which it is used, but for our purposes, let us use the definition Psychology Today provides: “Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own. You try to imagine yourself in their place in order to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.” Empathy is important in every aspect of our lives, and understanding its importance is crucial to being successful in business.

The practical application of empathy theories in the field of management was popularized by Daniel Goleman, who in his conceptualization of emotional intelligence posited empathy as one of the most basic components of emotional intelligence and a critical part of social awareness. According to Goleman, “empathy is the core of the competencies in the relationship management domain of Emotional Intelligence, the basis for more complex relationship management skills, including influencing other people or having a positive impact, mentoring other people, managing conflict, inspiring them as a leader, and teamwork.”

Successful people do not operate alone. Each of us needs the support of others to achieve the positive results that push us toward our goals. True empathy is understanding both the emotional and the logical rationales that go into the decision-making process. The importance of developing a clear, comprehensive understanding of how the way people think and feel influences how they make decisions cannot be overstated in the context of assessing others’ needs and motivations. Empathy is a valuable currency, and it allows us to create bonds of trust. It gives us insight into how and why others are reacting to situations, sharpening our “people acumen” and informing our own decisions. Indeed, empathy is crucial in every interaction in our lives and should be viewed as the driving force behind communication between ourselves and other people.

Empathy can actually be measured by science. The extent to which one can accurately empathize, i.e. the intensity of one’s cognitive responses and behavior, is a measure of how much one can relate to another person’s situation. There are many tests that measure empathy, most notably the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ), the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), the Emotion Specific Empathy questionnaire, and the Cognitive and Affective Empathy Test (Test de Empatía Cognitiva y Afectiva).

In the business world, the most widely used empathy analysis tool is the Empathy Map, a visualization that enables us to organize and analyze the observations we make about people. Developed by xplane, it helps us create a profile of a person so as to better understand his or her environment, behaviors, concerns, and aspirations. Empathy Maps allow the businessperson to visualize others’ emotions and feelings related to a particular experience and then synthesize those observations.

Employing this approach in our professional lives helps us collaborate more efficiently with others, create products and services, design thinking process, create success business model, resolve conflicts more effectively and implement organizational change. Moreover, this strategy empowers us to assess customers’ needs more accurately and align more closely our interests with those of our stakeholders.

When creating an Empathy Map, you should begin by clearly defining both the scope and the purpose of the analysis. During your observations, take note of the all the different ways the person is communicating with you. A great deal about a person’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can be inferred from non-verbal communication cues, such as body language and gestures.

Empathy Maps typically consist of a person surrounded by 4 quadrants:

  • Think and Feel: What might the person be thinking? What emotions might the person be feeling?
  • See: Describe what the person sees. Who surrounds them? What sort of environment are they in?
  • Say and Do: What kinds of words and phrases did the person use? What actions and behaviors did you notice?
  • Hear: Describe what the person hears. How are they influenced by the people they know? Which media channels influence them?

You can also create a section called “Pains” for the person’s frustrations, fears, and obstacles, and a section called “Gains” for the person’s goals, objectives, and passions. In short, these sections are about what they are running from and what they are running toward.

There are a wide variety of Empathy Maps, and I encourage you to customize this flexible tool to suit your specific purposes and needs.

In today’s world of constant and rapid change, empathy is a soft skill that is essential now more than ever. Showing the people, you interact with in business that you truly understand and appreciate their perspective will enhance and improve each and every interaction you have with your colleagues, business partners, and clients. It will help you to better align your interests with those of others, and it will ensure your success.

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