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23 April 2007

RATER: Empathy

Rick Freedman writes a book about the way consultant manage their clients. In the introduction he highlights the fact that a client’s preference for working with certain people can hold up projects until the right person is available even though other, equally qualified people are ready and waiting to do the work.

Similarly patients will also cross the city to visit their preferred GP. Patients are not in a good position to assess the quality of medical advice they receive, so what makes them care enough about a doctor to make such efforts? The answer is the “bedside manner” which in the context of this article is their empathy.

Technical ability is table stakes. What sets you apart is the way you deal with your clients. Empathy comes from listening and understanding. Empathy is being able to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.

For project workers who are managing change into organisations or developing new products or systems a customer includes the sponsor, users and all the stakeholders who have an influence on your project. That makes the job of the project manager and business analyst complex and difficult.

The payoff is that you have taken more time and effort to understand your clients and stakeholders and so your understanding of their needs and wants is better. You’ll be better able to interpret requirements and manage their expectations. You’ll also be a more trusted advisor and get more and better work with that client in the future.

Empathy requires that you listen to the people around you. It also requires that you listen to yourself – your own instincts and hunches. As busy people you need to build space in your week to reflect and to reflect on what has been going on around you and to work out what the real priorities are and what needs to be done about them.

“Better leaders and better managers are, above all, better listeners -- to others but also to themselves.”

You can read more about managing empathy into your work life at Mulhauser consulting here.