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Why Do Salespeople Struggle with Empathy?
Blog / Sales Management / Sep 8, 2017 / Posted by Colleen Stanley / 416 

Why Do Salespeople Struggle with Empathy?

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There is a new buzzword in sales and business: “Empathy.” It is actually an emotional-intelligence skill, quite essential when it comes to influencing people. It’s virtually impossible to communicate effectively if the one doing the communicating doesn’t care or has no idea of what the other human being is thinking or feeling–which defines empathy.

Sales experts always highlight the importance of being able to step into the prospect’s shoes, and view the world from that perspective. Active listening skills are stressed by sales managers. All of this is great advice–but salespeople won’t develop a sense of empathy without first engaging in the development of another skill.

The Skill of Paying Attention

In order to tune into the thoughts and emotions of others–which of course helps you develop empathy for them–you must be completely present. Shari Turkel, author of Bringing Back Conversation in the Digital Age, cites research demonstrating a 40 percent decline in empathy of people in their 20s.

This group is actually paying attention–just not to people. The only way to develop empathy is to factually observe, and see and hear how your actions and words impact another being. If you’re staring at the ground (or at a smartphone) you miss such emotional cues.

It’s ironic because our incessant need to connect with everything and everyone also makes us lose our ability to connect with the most important thing — people.

Colleagues go out to lunch to build relationships, which requires paying attention. But once seated, individuals set their phones on the table. The message is clear and the rules established. Relationship building and paying attention to each other will happen until one of us gets a phone call or text. How many of you are tired of competing for attention with a smartphone? (And why is it called a smartphone when it creates such stupid behaviors?)

Attend a company meeting and you will see laptops and tablets appear immediately. Colleagues are speaking, but no one is paying full attention.

Have you noticed that everyone wants to be everywhere but where they are?

Empathy skills develop and improve when you improve your ability to pay attention. Here are three ways to improve empathy and attention spans.

1. Stop settling. Sales organizations have bought into the fake news of short attention spans. They have been told you can expect people to pay attention only for eight to 10 minutes at a time because of the influence of technology and TV commercials.

But tell that fake news to a surgeon that spends four hours in surgery, several times a week, with no interruptions. Tell that to an accountant conducting an audit or completing tax returns. Can you imagine them telling their patients or clients their need to take a break every ten minutes? And how can a salesperson run a consultative sales call if they can’t focus for one hour?

Raise your expectations and you will raise the attention span and empathy level of your sales team.

2. Model attention paying skills. Create meetings that are tech-free and people-focused. Appoint one person to take notes. (This lessens the withdrawal that happens when people become unplugged.) If you need access to technology, compartmentalize it. View the technology and then put it away.

3. Decide where you want to be. Do you want to be at a meeting or with your technology? Do you want to coach your salesperson or answer your phone? Do you want to have a deep conversation or a superficial one?

Stop working on improving your sales team’s empathy skills. Start working on improving your sales team’s paying-attention skills. It is the foundational skill that builds empathy.

Good Selling!

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About Author

Colleen Stanley is the author of Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success, now published in 6 languages, and Growing Great Sales Teams, an international sales keynote speaker and has been recognized as one of the Top 50 Sales Bloggers in the world for the last 3 years. She is the creator of the Ei Selling® System, a unique and powerful sales program that integrates emotional intelligence skills with consultative selling skills. Salesforce has named Colleen as one of the most influential sales figures of the 21st century.

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