If you feel increasingly anxious, disconnected and lonely despite the fact that we’ve never been more “connected” in human history, you’re not alone. The very tools that intended to connect us are actually driving feelings of loneliness and separation. Instagram and Facebook are dominated by influencers trying to monetize the separateness and exclusion they create, or marketers trying to sell another product. It’s challenging to feel a real human connection anymore.
Luckily there is an antidote. We don’t need to rely on the droves of influencers selling the “secrets” to look, live or succeed like them. We all have the power to go inside ourselves and tap into the power of empathy. The antidote is empathy.
Empathy is the ability to cognitively and emotionally understand another person’s experience. Put simply, it’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In a world with disconnection, and narcissism, empathy is the best way to connect with others.
In business, true connection leads to successful business relationships, good company culture and other benefits. Here’s a look at the 4 major ways that empathy can help you succeed in business.
1. Sales and Business Development
When people ask me how I was so successful with business development (I’ve closed over $100M in my career), they’re surprised to hear the answer. They expect me to respond by stating the latest CRM or the highlighting latest sales hack. The answer is easier than that: I sell with empathy.
Leading with empathy allows you to better understand your potential customer. In B2B sales, this is especially important. By asking questions and genuinely listening to the answers, you can better understand the other person’s motivation and constraints. You can understand their world, and that understanding can guide you to connect with them.
Also, when you sell through empathy, you become a collaborator instead of a person who just wants to sell something. Empathy helps you understand that the prospect’s problem is your problem too, and together, you can solve the problem.
There’s always an expert on social media who will be happy to sell you the sales “secrets” you need. At the end of the day, you just need more empathy. If you lead with empathy, everything else takes care of itself.
2. Building an audience on social media
The issue with bad influencers and “gurus” is they derive their power by creating separation from you. They want you to feel that they are better than you, that they have secrets you don’t, and most importantly, that you cannot be the source of your own happiness or success. They want you to engage them (aka: buy their products) in order to get new results.
The opposite of this is empathy. When you communicate through empathy, you connect on a more human level with your audience. Instead of feeling “less than,” your audience will feel seen, heard and understood. Instead of making them feel inadequate, you’ll be giving them permission to accept where (or who) they are and give them hope to make whatever changes are necessary.
Empathy will also help you stay focused on empowering your audience. Since you can connect with the parts of people who feel lost, unsure or behind the learning curve, you can put your focus on creating content that empowers them with the hope, knowledge or worthiness they lack.
When you come from a place of empathy, your audience will connect with you on a deeper level and be nourished by the content you share. Imagine what social media could be if all influencers did this.
One big mistake marketers will make is speaking “at” their prospective customers. Consumers are constantly bombarded with messages about different products and why they should buy them. Yet if you stopped to look around, you’ll notice that some of the biggest brands do not do much marketing.
What do they have in common? They started movements by connecting with the soul of a customer. They use empathy to truly understand who their customer is on a human level and what drives their behaviors.
Here are a few examples from Ferrari, Apple and Airbnb:
A brand like Ferrari doesn’t need to tell you to buy a Ferrari, or that they’re really fast cars. Instead, they put that passion into building a product they know resonates with the feeling a customer wants to experience when they get behind the wheel.
For many years, customers would line up to get the latest iPhone from Apple because the product said something about who they are as a person. I don’t remember consumers lining up for Dell laptops.
Airbnb didn’t become more valuable than Hilton because it makes a better hotel booking website. They became a $30 Billion-dollar business by tapping into a traveler’s desire to belong anywhere and feel connected to the cultural fabric they’re visiting.
4. Hiring great talent
Talented people are the key to building and sustaining a great business. With so much competition out there, it’s not enough to say that you raised a big round of funding or have a great idea. You need to inspire them to join your mission.
Again, most people instinctively move into the sales process, selling the candidate on the business and the opportunity. Yet a great leader will use empathy: asking the candidate to share more about their life, personality, passions and goals.
In doing so, a leader can connect with the person, not just the resume. In today’s startup world, treating someone as a person, and caring about their interests, is a source of uniqueness and differentiation. The candidate will likely feel seen, heard and accepted. They’ll also notice that you care, and that will go a long way in feeling desired.
These four examples show how empathy can help create the connection we’ve lost in our digital society and while also leading to more success in your business or career. Instead of chasing the latest fad, or following the influencer who says they know it all, consider how you can strengthen and hone your ability to be empathetic. It can guide you to a life of success and fulfillment.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com. More from Inc.