Empathy Will Continue to Matter

Posted on 6th June 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I cite several interesting points from a recent article on itbusinessnet.com. Author Larry Kendall makes a strong case for the continuing importance of empathy in our digital 21st century.

Staying Human in a Digital Age

Kendall first reminds us of the dramatic, documented drop in empathy among young people over the past 20 years. He reminds us that many are spending considerably more time and energy on devices than they are with people. Their capacity to understand and share the feelings of others is beginning to atrophy, and it is becoming apparent in university classrooms.

“I see this in my college classes.  Ten years ago when I entered the classroom the students were out of their seats, visiting and making noise.  My challenge was to restore order and have them take their seats so we could start class.  Today when I walk in the classroom it is stone silent.  Everyone is in their seats absorbed in their device.  The technology has them hypnotized.  Now my challenge is to get them away from their screens and get them engaged in learning and interacting with their classmates.  It’s no wonder top companies are struggling to find people who can also communicate with another human being ‘live’!”

Something else I find interesting is Kendall’s quoting of ‘science’ that bolsters the case for face-to-face and voice-to-voice over technology to build empathy and trust. I was vaguely aware of these facts but I had never seen them put together into one argument:

  • Faster. The average person can talk at 150 – 180 words a minute and only type/text at 30 to 40 words per minute.
  • Better. Empathy happens with the eyes.  Face-to-face is the most powerful form of communication.  Fifty-five percent of communication is non-verbal (body language).
  • Quality. 82% of all emails are misunderstood as far as tone. (Source:  Harris Interactive Study) Have some fun at your next meeting by having the group repeat this statement 7 times, each time accenting a different word:  ‘I didn’t say he shot his wife.’  It will be hilarious and you quickly realize this statement could easily be misunderstood via email.
  • Attention. Tony Hsieh, President of Zappos says, ‘The telephone is the most amazing device ever invented.  I recommend my people use the phone versus email.  By phone you have the customer’s undivided attention.’”

Finally, the author closes with a call to action with which I heartily agree: “We are saying to properly use your technology.  Use it as a tool to build relationships and empathy rather than as a tool to isolate and buffer.  Work still gets done through people.

Empathy, communication and relationships are still at the core of what we do – even in a high-tech world.  Control your technology rather than letting it control you.” Well said, Larry.

Good luck, and until next time…