Read an Excerpt
LISTENING WITH EMPATHY
Creating Genuine Connections with Customers and Colleagues
By John Selby
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2007 John Selby
All rights reserved.
SHIFT FROM HEAD TO HEART
Four Empathy Variables
Summary of "Sensory Wake-Up" Process
Early in his career, George demonstrated a "sales charm" presence that his colleagues in his chosen field of health insurance envied. He was naturally charismatic, dominant, confident, and successful. He could gracefully, but forcefully, overpower a potential client and push most sales through. But, with the changing marketplace and more emphasis on genuine customer experience and long-term satisfaction, George found that he was closing fewer sales and also losing customer loyalty and renewals. Something in his sales routine wasn't working anymore.
His company began distributing short customer satisfaction surveys to its clients and George received numerous complaints. Customers wouldn't tell him to his face that they found him pushy and insincere, but they didn't respond positively to his overbearing tactics for closing a sale and they preferred to get their insurance elsewhere next time or have a different company rep visit them.
Hearing the results of this report, George was at a total loss. His old manipulative sales routine wasn't working anymore - but he had no idea what he could do to be more genuinely friendly. Like so many people, he felt a prisoner of his own moods and conditioning. When I first began working with him, one-on-one in private training, he felt offended, depressed, and hopeless - and angry for being harshly judged. His dad had been a great old-time salesman and George had just inherited the family routines.
In our first couple of sessions, he felt hurt and he floundered in defensive emotions. But, then George began to realize that the situation was not as bad as he thought. He learned that certain effective techniques could empower him to wake up his sales career, and to feel more genuinely friendly and positive in the bargain. Thus encouraged, he quickly shifted into action and went to work mastering the basic process. After three weeks of training, George was discovering that by giving himself permission to relax and feel genuinely good in the present moment, he could relate with clients without being pushy. Step by step he found a new confidence based on a sense of helpful participation in clients' lives. He also found that his ability to relate to his wife and two boys improved.
As George unleashed his inherent ability to come more from the heart and be honest with his emotions, he realized that his real sales power wasn't grounded in selfishly manipulating people, but in working with them to identify their needs and to do what he could to satisfy them.
In general, learning to be consistently positive and genuinely supportive in our lives means consciously shifting our focus of attention away from manipulating the world and toward more fully participating in each new moment. This is what empathy training is all about. In this first chapter, I'd like to teach you the first step I taught George - how to consciously manage your thoughts and moods before you enter into a sales, service, or teamwork situation so that you can make more contact with your feelings and awaken your empathic powers.
All you need are the basic cognitive tools for making this shift and, of course, some daily practice. I'll teach you the process, and then you provide the practice - through ten minutes of dedicated learning each day for the next few weeks. Is that a reasonable arrangement? You'll also find an audio online support program at our Listening with Empathy website to guide you through a daily empathy fitness program. Even in the first week of working with this method, you'll experience positive results. As a valuable bonus, you'll find that as you master this process your entire life will become brighter, friendlier, and more successful.
The business community has used the word "empathy" somewhat loosely. What is actually meant by the word? From the dictionary, we see that empathy comes from the Greek noun empatheia, meaning passion, or empathes, emotional. The formal definition states that empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.
Notice that empathy isn't just an idea; it's an action - in which you experience another person's presence and feelings in your own emotional system, stimulated by your present moment awareness of another person's thoughts, moods, and actions.
In other words, rather than staying overly fixated on your own feelings and thoughts when you meet someone, to feel empathy you need to shift your focus of attention strongly toward the physical presence and experience of the other person.
This means that, if you want to express empathy when you meet someone, you should probably prepare yourself beforehand so that you're in the proper state of mind to be aware and sensitive, and able to experience what the person you're meeting is feeling at the moment. If you're naturally in peak empathic condition in the moment, then no preparation is needed - but most of us most are usually in the opposite state.
We're focused on our own thoughts and emotions, rather than the thoughts and emotions of others.
Let's also look at what it really means to be "friendly" since this term is often used interchangeably with empathic. The dictionary tells us that being friendly means showing kindly interest and goodwill; being cheerful, comforting, and helpful. Again we see the clear intent - to perceive the need of another person and to express positive, cheerful concern for that person's well-being. Being friendly also means being of service and help to another person.
Especially in the realm of sales and service work, the words "friendly," "empathic," and the phrase "ready to serve" reflect the basic state of awareness that will make customers and clients feel accepted, understood, and well taken care of. "We offer friendly service" is the general motto of every successful business - but the vital question remains: How can you make sure before you enter into a service situation that you are in the right state of mind and mood to be genuinely helpful and friendly?
Four Empathy Variables
From a psychological perspective, there are four primary variables that determine whether you are warm and friendly, or just the opposite. You'll notice that each of the following inner variables relates to how you manage your own moment-to-moment focus of attention. Your power of attention is, indeed, as I point out in many of my books, the underlying mental tool at your immediate disposal to take charge of your inner power and direct it where you want it.
When you focus your attention in certain directions (on the past or the future, on negative memories, on your own concerns, etc.), your service quotient in the present moment drops way down. When you focus your attention in optimum directions (the present moment, good feelings in your heart, positive attitudes toward others, etc.), you shift into a more friendly, helpful mood that customers respond to. Here are the four primary directions in which you can choose to focus your attention that will immediately brighten your empathy charge.
1. Focus on the present moment: Most people typically focus their attention on their own inner thoughts, imaginations, worries, dreams, memories, strategies, and so forth - and all of these mental functions take their attention away from the present moment, into the past or the future. Unfortunately for customer satisfaction, when your attention is gone from the present moment, you're not really aware of the customer at all - and therefore not truly available to them.
The first step you always need to make, to ensure that you're "here and now" in the present moment, is to move through a simple hut powerful cognitive-shifting process that brings you fully into the present moment where all experience and interaction take place.
2. Focus on your heart: For a great many reasons, most people are not focused on the feelings in their heart. They're focused on the thoughts, images, memories, and imaginings constantly running through their minds. Unless you learn how to shift fast from head to heart focus, customers will experience this lack of warmth from you - and react to it. When your attention is not focused in the region of your heart, at that moment you'll be experienced as a "heartless" person - with serious consequences for customer experience and bonding.
Before an encounter with a client, customer, or any other significant person in your life, it's essential to know a focusing method that instantly takes your attention from head to heart - literally. This is a surefire, guaranteed process for making positive contact with a person.
3. Focus on feeling good: Once again, we find in studies that people fail to focus on their choice of feeling good in their bodies in the present moment. Feeling good is a choice, and if we have mental and emotional habits that focus on bad feelings and upsetting thoughts and memories and imaginations, then we hold ourselves locked in bad feelings rather than good feelings. And, clearly, if we're feeling bad we're not going to help clients and customers feel good.
In preparation for a business or social encounter, it's essential to consciously choose to shift from feeling bad to feeling good.
Of course, in some extreme situations we can't instantly make this shift - but you'll be surprised at how good you can get at choosing to feel good, and then almost instantly shifting into good feelings. All you need is the recognition that you do have the choice to aim your attention in bad- or good-feeling directions, and then perform a particular cognitive-shifting process than enables you to act on this choice.
4. Focus on your positive intent: Most people usually do not hold in mind their positive "intent" for a given situation. Intent is the psychological partner of one's focus of attention - it's your cognitive statement of what you want to accomplish in any given moment of your life. And, if your habitual statement of intent isn't appropriate for the present situation, you won't be able to achieve the opportunity of the present moment. Specifically, if your intent is to manipulate a person rather than to help that person get what they need, your empathy quotient will drop very low, and the customer will react negatively.
The fourth empathy variable requires that you consciously state your positive intent before a sales or service engagement so that you aim your focus of intent directly where it will best serve you.
How can you learn to quickly redirect your mind's focus of attention and intent so that you shift your awareness and emotions in directions that optimize business encounters? Cognitive science has developed a new approach to managing your mind, employing powerful "focus phrases" that I'll be teaching you, some of them drawn from my basic mind-management method and some specific to this particular "empathy boost" program. Your easy job is to memorize these primary statements of intent, and then use them before, during, and after every business encounter.
Focus phrases are a natural extension of how your mind works in general. For instance, when you feel hungry in your stomach, this physical experience stimulates your mind to reflect upon what to do to satisfy your hunger. Thoughts and imaginations come to mind, and quite soon you develop a clear and verbal intent so that your mind actually says to itself, "I want to stand up and walk into the kitchen and get myself a sandwich." This is clearly a focus phrase that you say to yourself, usually almost subliminally. Once your mind states its intent, then your body responds to the verbal statement and you go into action to accomplish your intent.
It's the same with anything you do in life. Except for the most basic physiological functions, there is always a fleeting thought or mental image, a statement of intent that motivates you to go into action directly toward what you want to accomplish. In preparing for an encounter in sales and service, indeed in any business situation, you want to operate basically in the same way.
My motto in all this work is, "Say it – do it!" State your intent clearly, and then allow those words to focus your attention and stimulate related action to achieve your goal.
What general statement might best express your desired intent as you prepare to meet with a customer or co-worker? Assuming that positive customer experience is the key to a satisfied, loyal customer, how about this:
"I'M GOING TO BE FRIENDLY AND CHEERFUL, LISTEN WITHOUT MANIPULATION, AND HELP SATISFY THIS PERSON'S NEEDS."
This is a good beginning statement of intent, but it's a bit too long and it covers several different themes. I will be teaching you variations upon this general statement, focus phrases that will directly stimulate inner emotional shifting and a rapid uplifting of your mood and empathic focusing of your intent. Specifically, for each of the four empathy variables mentioned above, I will be teaching you a specific focus phrase of great import.
What's important to remember here in the beginning, in learning to activate the true power of focus phrases, is that you don't just think the thought. You "say to yourself" the words - so that the words move from just a mental thought to a physical action or statement of intent.
You don't have to say the words out loud – it's best to say them "to yourself" so that you feel the words on your lips and tongue and in your throat, but don't vocalize them in sound.
Here's the key psychological point. When you approach someone without clarifying your intent at this level, chances are very high that you will have other thoughts in your mind that determine the quality of the encounter. And, all too often, these thoughts will be stressful, worried, judgmental, and otherwise unhelpful, to say the least. In fact, it's actually dangerous to let your unconscious mind determine where you're focusing your intent in business engagements. Most of the time, you will have negative attitudes grumbling in the back of your mind - and these habitual reactions and expectations will pollute your present-moment emotional presence.
This is why much of this book focuses on teaching you to consciously employ these new cognitive tools before, during, and after a business encounter - so that you take control of your intent and direct your attention specifically where it will serve you (and your client) best.
There is a vast amount of psychological research supporting the logic and power of focus phrases, but you don't need to comprehend the complexity of the dynamic of the method in order to gain full access to its power - any more than you need to fully comprehend how the engine in your car works in order to turn the key and power off down the road. You'll immediately feel the power of the focus phases by memorizing them and using them in work situations, or any interpersonal situation you find yourself in. Say it - do it!
Let's now take a closer look at the four key empathy variables and begin learning their four respective focus phrases that will turn your mind's attention instantly in positive directions.
In order to relate and listen with empathy to a customer, you obviously need to "be here" in the present moment rather than lost in thoughts about the past or the future. In this regard, psychologically, your mind has several different modes in which it can operate, four different directions that it can aim your focus of attention. Your basic question is always: Which of these four modes of consciousness am I going to focus on right now?
1. You can focus on the past, remembering and reliving the vast assortment of memories that you've accumulated during your life.
2. You can focus on the future, imagining things that might happen to you or conjuring up fantasies and daydreams.
3. You can focus on pure thought and lose yourself in thinking mode, which is abstract and outside the space-time dimension.
4. You can focus on present-moment experience happening right now as a sensory, perceptual event in your body and emotions.
All four of these levels of consciousness are needed in equal balance for a full life. But, when it's time to engage in a business or social interaction of any kind, you will definitely do best if you consciously shift your attention away from the past, the future, and abstract thought, and aim your attention directly toward the present moment and your bodily experience in the here and now otherwise, you're just not going to be "here" for the other person.
Excerpted from LISTENING WITH EMPATHY by John Selby. Copyright © 2007 John Selby. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.