Being an Empathetic Entrepreneur

By Laura Wallace |  April 23, 2019

Do you ever watch a movie and find yourself feeling whatever the character has going on?

So maybe they’re walking around the corner and you know a killer is on the other side and you can just feel the fear in your body? Or you see that there’s heartbreak or someone has lost someone and you can feel it in your body and you’re just sad – like you can literally feel it down into your core?

If some of these things sound like you, then you’re probably an empathetic person. Sometimes it’s referred to as an empath, and this week on The Gutsy Podcast, we’re going to talk about how empathy and entrepreneurship work together.

If you’re familiar with the concept of empathy and you know me, you know that I fit the bill about 127,000%. But if you’re not overly familiar with the concept of empathy, it’s the ability to understand and feel other people’s feelings and emotions. It’s having the ability to connect with people on a human level and really truly understand how they’re feeling and what they’re saying and not just listening into the conversation.

Like I mentioned, if you’re watching a movie and you can literally feel the characters and the emotions that they’re having or if you’re witnessing, you know, an argument through people and you can really feel the pain that person is feeling. Or one of the top places my empathy loves to kick in is when I’m experiencing someone doing something that they absolutely love to do.

For instance, we went to see it Frozen on Broadway and I’m telling you, I probably cried more than every collective little girl in that entire auditorium because there’s something about the magic of watching these performers on stage in their light doing what they absolutely love to do. And then experiencing the beauty and the craft that comes out of their voices. I mean, my empathy was like flying through the roof. At the very core, empathy is simply just the ability to understand and share feelings with another person, whether they’re in your presence or not.

Being an empath means that you feel everything. This is one of the greatest gifts that a person can have, but it can also be one of the most challenging emotions to overcome. My empathy is actually so strong that I can sense when someone is feeling something, even without them saying a word. I can walk into a room and sense the energy in the room. It’s almost like a sixth sense that allows me to pick up on things both good and bad.

And then let’s add being an entrepreneur on top of that. So how does empathy play into being an entrepreneur? Well, it most surely makes things interesting sometimes, but when you learn how to harness and control that emotion and really use it – it can be a pretty powerful tool to help you grow your business. I think probably one of the largest things that I have learned through this entire journey of business ownership is that it can be really challenging to separate emotion from business, especially when you’re an empathetic person.

So when you’re already feeling things on a deeper level and you have to literally put away the feelings and put on your big girl pants, it can be really challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally to create that separation. So I want to talk a little bit about the pros to being an empathetic leader and some of the cons and how we can use these thoughts and feelings to be better entrepreneurs. I’m going to start with the cons so that we can just call things for what they are and lay them out on the table, but also because I really love to leave you with the pros.

One of the first cons to being an empathetic leader is it can lead you to make poor decisions because as an empath, you’re feeling things on a deeper level.

Empathy can actually cloud your moral judgment and make you less effective at making wise decisions.

For instance, you know that your plate is full, you know that your schedule is maxed out for as far as you can see, but someone calls or sends you a text and says, “Hey you, you’re really good at this thing. Could you help me with it?”

Now the logical part of our brain is like, um, hey, no, you already have way too many things to do. You don’t even know how you’re going to get all of those things done. How are you possibly going to get one more thing done for someone else? And then empathy likes to knock on the door like, oh, but you remember those other times that they helped you, or, oh, they must not have enough time, so maybe I should help them.

Empathy likes to talk us into doing things that we know we shouldn’t do, but we feel like we have to do.

We feel like we’re going to hurt their feelings or we’re going to let them down and we should just – that word just, it seems so easy to throw around, but in reality, it’s not just. Right? It’s rearranging things and putting more stress on yourself. So the way to combat making poor decisions when your empathy is present is really stepping back and removing the emotion and asking yourself, is this going to help me or is this going to hurt me?

Sometimes you do have free time and you are able to help people or you do just really feel super connected. That’s okay. Those things are going to help you because that’s going to give you personal fulfillment. But if it’s taking away from the things that you’ve already committed to and adding another layer of stress, you have to just step back and say, “I wish I could help you, but I can’t this time.

Number two, empathy causes distress in our lives.

Holy Cow. The perk to empathy is you get to feel a lot of really beautiful emotions. The downfall is you get to feel all the nasty ones, too. Empathy often leads to overthinking which leaves to feeling frustrated or disappointed or angry or all of these emotions and feelings that we create in our minds.

For example, how many times have you received a text message from someone and because they have used all caps, heaven forbid, or they use an exclamation point or they respond with k (that’s my all-time favorite)? When your empathy kicks in, you go into overdrive. Oof, oh, did I do something wrong? Did I say something? Maybe I have upset them? And then you start reliving every mistake that you’ve ever made in your entire life, and then heaven forbid, an actual circumstance happens like you lose a client or you have to have a tough conversation with someone.

When you’re feeling things on a deeper level, you will beat that situation to death, but only in your mind. And then 9 and a half times out of 10 after you’ve done the thing or had the conversation, you’re like, oh, that was way easier than I expected. I should have just done that earlier. But no, our emotions get in the way and we talk ourselves out of it, or rather, talk ourselves into what we feel is going to happen.

I know that I get caught in this hamster wheel because I will play on loop every thousand and one different scenarios of how I feel it’s going to go down. And most of the time it’s not really what happens. So the best way to overcome this is just to act a little bit sooner. Don’t act when emotions are high or when you’ve got a lot going on. Make sure that you have all the facts. You really just kind of grab things and get ahold of them, but then instead of sitting in that space where you think about it for hours or days or weeks or months or years, when you feel like you have all the information that you need, then I just want you to do the thing. Whatever that thing is. You’ll reduce a lot of anxiety and a lot of overthinking by just getting it off your plate.

Number three, empathy causes you to make knee jerk reactions, which is not super ideal when you’re running a business or really in any other aspect of life, to be honest.

Think about the last time you went to an awesome concert. You were in the zone, you were in the moment, the weather was perfect, your favorite band was playing, and then you walk around to the merch booth and you’re like, oh my gosh, I need all of these things because I’m feeling so super amazing right now.

And then you get home and realize that you just spent $65 on a tee shirt and $100 on a sweatshirt and at home you’re like killing it at Marshall’s with the $9.99 shirts. That is empathy saying, I’m feeling super awesome right now, so I’m going to make a really quick decision on something that I’m probably going to regret later.

The downfall to that is the regret doesn’t typically kick in until much later – like after it has already been done. You can’t exactly return $165 worth of merchandise to a concert. So I want to encourage you that when you are having a heightened emotion, whether that’s a super high and excited or a really low kind of down in the dumps emotion and feelings, I want you to pause on making decisions. Stop yourself in mid-thought, say, how is this going to affect me later? Is this a decision that I’m going to be happy with later or is this something that I’m going to be like, ah, I really wish I hadn’t done that.

Because what always happens to those band tee shirts? That’s right. They become your pajama tee shirts and I don’t know about you but I’m not really feeling super awesome about spending $65 on a piece of pajamas.

Okay.

Number four, empathy can cause a lack of action.

Empathy is pretty awesome at stopping people in their tracks and keeping them from moving forward. Which I know is the opposite of the last one, which was a knee jerk reaction, but this is kinda going back to number two where we get caught up in the thoughts and the feelings and therefore we just stop.

Maybe this is a tough conversation that you have to have with someone on your team. Those are not fun to have, right? They don’t feel good. No one wakes up thinking, you know what I get to do today? Have a really shitty conversation with someone. It’s when we silence these things that we start to allow behaviors. And when we allow behaviors, we create a standard on what is acceptable. And when we create what is acceptable, it’s really hard to make changes.

Empathy likes to say, “Hey, don’t rock the boat. I don’t want you to upset people. I don’t want them to be worried or concerned or angry at you, so let’s just internalize this and we’ll carry all the weight and that way we’re not upsetting anyone else.”

This is not good, like just really, really not good and why? Because then we just create this Mecca – this entire orb – of emotions and feelings. Not only are you worried that people are going to be upset with you, but now you’re upset with people for reasons that they don’t know that you’re upset. You begin to carry a burden that is not intended for you to carry.

The best way to overcome this one, and I hate to say it and I’m still working on it myself, is you’re never going to make everyone happy and tough conversations are just part of the gig. This one comes with acceptance and knowing that tough conversations don’t necessarily mean that this is how it’s going to be forever, but it’s more understanding that by holding onto these things, you’re actually not helping other people grow and learn.

If they don’t know what’s going on, they can’t evolve, and if you carry that burden yourself – you’re just going to become bitter. As a leader of an organization, it falls on you. It’s your responsibility to one, be open to taking the same type of feedback and criticism from those around you. And two, be able to guide people to help them be better versions of themselves.

Now, on the other side of the spectrum, being an empathetic leader can actually be pretty incredible for your business.

For instance, number one, being an empathetic leader creates amazing trust with the people around you. Your people feel like they can relate to you. You understand their feelings, they feel seen, they feel heard, you’re validating them, and when people feel validated, they become insanely loyal, which is one of the most beautiful aspects of growing great company culture. I find this extra powerful when we’re working with our clients.

So as we’re branding people, we really have to kind of get into the weeds and understand what’s going on in their heads and what their goals are and you know, just kind of the overall aesthetics for the business plan. So when we’re able to open up and use empathy, we are able to help our clients feel seen and heard.

You know, when your clients are coming to you, they’re coming to you because they’re having a problem. Whether it’s their toilet is stopped up and they’ve got shit going on everywhere or they’re sick and they’re seeing you as a practitioner, or in our case, their brand is disconnected or their website’s not functioning properly. When you’re able to get on their level – really listen to what’s going on, repeat those things back to them, and tell them how you’re going to fix it – that creates incredible trust right from the start.

And the most important thing here is then to deliver on those promises and when you can over deliver. When you hear them up front and then you fix the problem and surpass their expectations, you’ve created a lifelong customer. By using empathy in your business, you’re able to just kind of tear down the walls of standard business practices and look at people for what they are, and that’s a human. We are humans before we are business owners and humans have feelings.

I also think that it’s proof that you don’t have to be cutthroat to win in business. When really if we just step back and listen to people more, not just listen and be present in the room, but actually, truly listen, repeat back, etc., you can create some beautiful, beautiful relationships and growth within your business.

Number two, being an empathetic leader gives you perspective.

It allows you to see things from other perspectives and other angles. Sometimes it’s from a personal standpoint. Sometimes it’s from a business standpoint. But it really just opens and broadens your perspective on the entire situation. It helps you to realize there are always two sides to stories and that everything is not always what it seems. It allows you to see emotions and feelings through someone else’s eyes and see and understand truly what they’re feeling and what they’re going through so that you can kind of break down your own walls and say, “How can I help you with these things? Here are some areas that I feel like I could contribute to help you overcome this.”

It all comes back to that validation point like, okay, let’s say a client emails you and they’re just super pissed about something. Something went haywire. There was a detail missed. Something has gone wrong that has caused them to feel upset. When you put on your empathetic leader hat, you can make the decision to get on the phone with them or get in person with them and listen to the problems that they’re having and then validate the things that are true and advise them and guide them in the areas that maybe they need a little bit more information.

It also gives you an opportunity to maybe find out what else is going on. Because most of the time when people lash out, it’s not because of that specific scenario, but it’s usually kind of a combination of other things.

Maybe their dog got out at this morning and then their toddler threw cheerios everywhere and then they dropped their coffee all over their jeans when they were getting out of the car and then they got into the office and realize there’s a problem. And before you know it, there’s the atomic bomb.

When you’ve built trust with that client to begin with, you have a little bit more leeway and opportunity to say, “Hey, I noticed that you’re super upset. What else is going on? Let’s just talk from human to human.” You wouldn’t believe the sigh of relief that most people have. And they’ll tell you if they don’t want to talk about it, they won’t. But when you’ve really connected with people and you just kind of say, “Hey, what’s going on? What can I help you with?” – I’ve had people cry. I’ve had people go on rants and be like, this is what’s going on and it’s really not you and it just really helps you again to build that connection.

Which leads me into the third one and that is, being an empathetic leader helps you to build better relationships.

You’re able to take the time to get to know and appreciate and understand your customers’ biggest pain points. What makes your employees tick? What incentivizes them in life? It’s knowing that your spouse loves when you just spend five minutes and drink coffee with them on the couch before you leave for work that really fills their tank. It’s really being in tune to other people and their emotions and what really makes them feel whole.

A lot of this is self-awareness. Self-awareness of yourself and awareness of other people. So when you know that it upsets someone if you’re leaving the toilet seat up all the time, empathy is gonna kick in and give you self awareness to say, hey, I know this really frustrates them, so I’m going to do a better job of putting the seat down and then we won’t have that friction in our lives.

Empathy in your relationships, whether they’re at work or at home or in another capacity, is another way for you to build solid foundations simply by validating to say, I see you, I hear you and I’m aware of you and this is what I’m willing to do to contribute towards our relationship.

And last but not least, four, being an empathetic leader can really help you grow your business.

Now you might be wondering why. Like I’m the person that cries at every single hallmark commercial. I’m the one that cries when people were singing on stage. How can someone that has so many emotions be successful? And yes, those things can get in the way and it’s really important to understand the time and a place for them.

But when you are able to show your emotions to your team and show them that you are a human and that you also need help. When you show your clients that you understand them, they are more loyal and they’re more likely to send referrals your way because they want other people like them to feel like they have felt with you. When your employees are happy and engaged, other people want to be part of that culture which leads to growing a strong, healthy team and thinking about your clients again. When clients are happy, they are more likely to invest in you on an ongoing basis.

How many times have you had a great experience and when you need that service again, you know exactly where to go? You don’t start shopping all over again. You had a great experience, the problem was solved and now you need that service again so you know exactly where to go. It also gives you an opportunity to attract like-minded people. So when you’re open and you’re able to share experiences and let down some of the walls that we build so easily and show people that you’re also a human that’s just trying to run a business just like they are, you attract the right people in whatever capacity that is, which increases your happiness, which increases your chances for growth.

A lot of people may associate empathy with weakness, but after really exploring this and understanding it more myself, I realized that it actually couldn’t be further from the truth. Empathy is a superpower. It gives you a lens into other people’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings. It’s a chance to create deeper, more meaningful connections and it also gives you the opportunity to feel some of the most beautiful, colorful emotions that have ever existed.

So if you’re an empathetic leader, my hat goes off to you because you have a unique ability that can take your business to places you never thought possible.

Join me this Thursday for our #powerback when we talk about using your gut as a tool for making decisions, for feeling things out, and for knowing right from wrong. But let’s not forget, we always have to fact check with our brain.

Until then, follow The Gutsy Podcast on Facebook and Instagram or for more business insights, follow me on Instagram @thatlauraaura. See ya next time!

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