At a recent employer panel on the peninsula, I had the opportunity to ask four high level executives (VP and Director levels) from four large organizations what type of technical training we should be providing our job seekers.
Strangely there was an awkward silence following the question. Finally, the HR person from the large, well established tech firm spoke up. His answer, paraphrased here, was that by the time he saw a candidate that person had already established that he had the technical skills needed. What he needed was someone who had empathy. WHAT?!?! EMPATHY? What the heck does empathy have to do with tech?
But even more strange was how the three other panelists simultaneously breathed a sigh and eagerly jumped on this bandwagon. Each panelist discussed the importance of “soft” skills going so far as to say that there were hard skills and then “harder” skills and these emotional intelligence skills are more difficult.
So why empathy? And is it that hard to come by? Turns out it is. Empathy, put simply, the ability to understand the needs, feelings and point of view of others, is needed for any job. In tech, you will be working on teams to fulfill the customer needs. Same for finance and healthcare. At Sutter Health, job candidates must take a test to prove their ability to empathize. In the nonprofit arena, ditto and you need to understand both the needs of the donors and the recipients of the service.
Not sure if you are good at empathy?
You can start improving it now. First, begin by just listening. A special kind of listening I call “being in neutral.” Meaning, suspend your own opinions and advice. In the words of Steven Covey, listen to understand. Release any desire to be right, prove a point, or win a discussion. After listening, summarize what you think you heard including best guesses at content, feelings, and needs. Ask the other person something to the effect of “is that about right?” You will be surprised at how well your interpersonal actions go from here.
I’d love to hear how it is working out for you.