March 31, 2016

Empathy vs sympathy

I have on occasion been accused of not being a very sympathetic person. If you want an outward display of emotion I am probably not the person to come to.

I was watching a programme last week about the brain. They were talking on the show about how we feel empathy. Brain scans have shown that when we emphasise with another person who is in pain, the pain region of our own brain is also active. In a way we really do feel their pain.

Empathy is essential for any form of marketing. If you are putting a message in front of someone you need to be able to get inside their head.

The programme went on to show how people who paralyse their facial muscles with botox not only struggle to display the emotions they are feeling, but also struggle to read the emotions of others. When we encounter another person we tend to mimic their facial expression for a brief moment, essentially trying it on to see how it feels. Apparently this ability is reduced in people who use botox.

All of this shows that if you want to write persuasively to a group of people the best way is to get out of your office and talk to them. I think the real benefit of networking isn’t the leads or connections, it’s the feedback you get from the people you meet there. Linzi says it is often good for me to leave the house and speak to the Real People, and I suspect she is right.

If you ever talk with me on Skype I’ll usually turn my camera on. I don’t expect people to do the same but I think it adds an extra layer of understanding.

I think people tend to confuse sympathy and empathy. Empathy is your ability to feel the emotions of others. Sympathy is your ability to make outward displays of emotion. Sympathy is helpful when you meet for coffee with a distressed friend, but it isn’t essential for marketing.

I do not think empathy is a natural skill, or trait. We can all do it, but our ability to feel empathy is diminished when we become too self-centred or we expect too much from the other person in return.

You can actually implement a process to improve your empathy. Eighty percent of that process is going and meeting with people in your target market, keeping your ears open and your mouth mostly shut.

Rob Drummond

Rob Drummond runs the Maze Marketing Podcast and Maze Mastery. Rob specialises in content production, ad creation, storytelling and CRM systems. He has two published books, Magnetic Expertise and Simple Story Selling, affordable on Amazon.

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