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April 24, 2017

Why Salespeople Struggle with Empathy

“Empathy” is the new buzzword in sales and business. It’s an emotional intelligence skill and an essential skill in influencing people.   You really can’t engage in effective communication if you don’t care or know what another human being is thinking or feeling, which defines empathy.  

Sales experts talk about the importance of stepping into a prospect’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. Sales managers stress the importance of active listening skills. This is good advice; however, salespeople can’t develop empathy without first developing another skill.

The skill of paying attention: No wonder learning and developing empathy is hard.   

You must be completely present in order to tune into the emotions and thoughts of others, which helps you develop empathy for them. Shari Turkel, author of “Bringing Back Conversation in the Digital Age,” cites research that shows a 40 percent decline in empathy of people in their 20s. Oh, this group is paying attention — just not to people.  You develop empathy only when you pay attention and actually see or hear how your words and actions land on another person.  And when you are looking down, not up, you miss those emotional cues. 

It’s ironic because our incessant need to connect with everything and everyone also makes us lose our ability to connect with the most important thing — people. 

Colleagues go out to lunch to build relationships, which requires paying attention. But once seated, individuals set their phones on the table. The message is clear and the rules established. Relationship building and paying attention to each other will happen until one of us gets a phone call or text. How many of you are tired of competing for attention with a smartphone?  (And why is it called a smartphone when it creates such stupid behaviors?)     

Attend a company meeting and you will see laptops and tablets appear immediately. Colleagues are speaking, but no one is paying full attention.

Have you noticed that everyone wants to be everywhere but where they are?

Empathy skills develop and improve when you improve your ability to pay attention. Here are three ways to improve empathy and attention spans.       

1. Stop settling. Sales organizations have bought into the fake news of short attention spans. They have been told you can expect people to pay attention only for eight to 10 minutes at a time because of the influence of technology and TV commercials. 

But tell that fake news to a surgeon that spends four hours in surgery, several times a week, with no interruptions. Tell that to an accountant conducting an audit or completing tax returns. Can you imagine them telling their patients or clients their need to take a break every ten minutes?And how can a salesperson run a consultative sales call if they can’t focus for one hour?

Raise your expectations and you will raise the attention span and empathy level of your sales team.

2. Model attention paying skills.  Create meetings that are tech-free and people-focused. Appoint one person to take notes. (This lessens the withdrawal that happens when people become unplugged.) If you need access to technology, compartmentalize it. View the technology and then put it away.

3. Decide where you want to be. Do you want to be at a meeting or with your technology? Do you want to coach your salesperson or answer your phone? Do you want to have a deep conversation or a superficial one? 

Stop working on improving your sales team’s empathy skills. Start working on improving your sales team’s paying-attention skills. It is the foundational skill that builds empathy.

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