A guide to developing tactical empathy
So empathy is the word and everyone is trying to acquire this superpower. Truth is, you already have it and without it civilisation would never have got this far. All you need to do is get your head out of your butt!
In my last article, I went into what empathy is and its three flavours. In this, I delve deeper into Cognitive Empathy, often called Intellectual Empathy or Tactical Empathy.
I will share a case study
I will share a method to develop it with some simple exercises
Allow me to go into story mode before I show you how.
Back in the day, I worked in London in a money brokers, it was a high pressure atmosphere in the heart of the nineties when Greed was Good, Gordon Gecko was a pinup and you could wear red braces without irony. I was young and aspired to be as narcissistic as my peers. On my desk was one of the elder statesmen of the office, he must have been in his forties! He was low key, never got overly aggressive during trading frenzies and did The Times crossword when the market was calm. The top brass always treated him with respect, even deference. I later learned that he was one of the top earners in the company. Now, part of the job was to take out clients, we called it The Lush, great pains and greater expense was taken to show the client an extravagant time and drinking Bolly from the bottle was a standard trope of The Lush. Anyway, Pinky the elder statesman (we were all known by some derivative of our surname, I think his was Pinkerton) would rarely join our debauchery and always drank from a glass.
Before he went on The Lush, he would pull a box of index cards from his drawer and read one, sometimes he would do the same when he came back and write on one. One day I mustered the courage to ask him.
“Hey, Pinky!” I remember feeling a need to put a Mr. before his name. “What’s with those cards?”
He barely looked up but he smiled and said, “When you’ve been in this circus as long as I have, your memory will be goosed, too.”
I assumed that the cards contained details of his expenses or trade positions.
Pinky became my mentor, although he probably didn’t realise. Well, he probably did, I followed him like a lost puppy. I quizzed him about everything but it was the cards that really intrigued me. His replies were always as cryptic as The Times Crossword. He wasn’t an easy mentor but the more I differentiated myself from the others, who he called Hooligans in Hugo Boss, the more he availed me of his attention. You know, now I think of it, it’s partly because of him that I left the markets but I could equally have gone on to survive it and become very wealthy, with his wisdom. One day, he finally told me what the cards contained.
I told him what I had assumed and he laughed.
“No, son that’s easy to remember. This is the gold.”
The cards contained little details about his clients, their kids’ names and ages, their wives, hobbies even birthdays. He kept the box in a locked drawer. Now, I can hear you thinking that this was a cynical move by Pinky and you might be right, but the markets were/are a cynical place. The whole business was a bubble, we only knew what was in front of us. It was a bit like Facebook. What wasn’t cynical was how he got this information that is most important. He was given it by being interested. He kept that information safe and I like to think he used it authentically so as not to confuse wives’ or kids’ names, to authentically maintain interest. Bear in mind, this was in a market where we barely knew each other’s real names, so a “How’s little Mary’s horse riding going?” was a big deal.
Being interested makes you interesting.
Being interested gives you an insight into others.
Being interested makes genuine connections.
And those connections take you out of your own head and help you to understand the needs of others. Now, this could be practical needs or the more emotional needs that help to bring trust and understanding.
When you stop considering everything from your perspective, you are more able to see both sides of your business relationships.
This will result in:
You being able to conduct your relationship in good faith, whether it is negotiations, transactions or daily business.
You being able to take emotions into consideration and not getting so frustrated with their reactions. It’s so easy to just write off someone’s behaviour as them being a douche! But it may just be that they’ve had a bad day and you may be able to make that day better.
You being able to build empathy-based trust. This often results in reciprocity, favours being done and you never know when you may need their help.
Okay, so you are now convinced that investing in your environment is beneficial. So how can you get some Pinky wisdom in your day?
The Pinky Exercise
Get a notebook.
Make a mental note of eye colour and any distinguishing features.
Warning! Do not stare at scars, moles or blemishes, this will get you in trouble.
When people tell you things about themselves, show interest.
Don’t change the subject.
Don’t say “Yeah, me too!” then go into your own story.
Use mirroring questions.
“We’re having issues with the supply chain.”
“Issues with the supply chain?” then shut up again.
Repeat the key words from a statement to form a question. Chris Voss, the ex-FBI hostage negotiator teaches this technique but it works in many environments. Using the same words shows attentiveness and making a question encourages elaboration.
Later, when you separate, write these details in your notebook. The observation, listening and reflecting when you make your notes will increase you perception skills over time. And, You will find that people find you more and more interesting.
You are not expected to agree with everything that you are told. You are not expected to sympathise with all of their complaints or gripes. You just listen. After a week, you should find that a whole world opens up to you and once it becomes a habit, you will find that you can almost mindread.
But one thing is for sure… your head will be out of your butt!