“When I raise the notion of empathy, she dismisses it as being “a very ‘today’ word” (she prefers understanding).”
~ Vogue interview with Theresa May
I get this, because I like to understand how things work too. My first few years in IT meant putting in well over 10,000 hours exploring customer requirements, looking for patterns, and creating new systems. But analysis and synthesis aren’t enough.
Staying objective, and avoiding the ‘touchy, feely’ won’t help you sell your ideas. If you want to influence clients, and help them decide, empathy and understanding are equally important.
The problem with simply understanding a situation is that you tend see situations through the lens of self interest, or as a passive observer.
Empathy is a different experience altogether. It means stepping out of your own shoes, and into the client’s. It means feeling (and then perhaps thinking) as they do.
I know there are those who are skeptical about this type of thing. That skepticism feels closed. Then there are others who avoid empathy in case it makes them appear week. That avoidance feels defensive. And of course there are those who just don’t give a damn about other’s feelings. That feels like a personality disorder. (OK I confess that’s not really a feeling.)
Empathy is something you can work on, and develop. It takes practice.