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Empathy for Clients is Key in Communication

By Felicia J. Slattery

I am often asked what is the one communication skill small business owners should possess in order to be as successful as possible. The best advice I can give is to be receiver-oriented, which is the fancy communication way of saying stay focused on your clients' and prospects' needs and wants. Sure there are techniques for all sorts of communication skills like becoming more confident; boosting your "know, like, and trust" factor; putting together a speech; and rules about email etiquette. Certainly learning more about all these areas will improve your professional communications.

But what's most important to remember is to always keep in mind your client or prospect. If you pay more attention to your clients and prospects and put yourself in their shoes, you'll be practicing empathy. And empathy is the most important communication skill a person can have at work or at home. By putting yourself in the other's place, you'll get a sense of how it feels to be bombarded with 20 emails in a week from the same person trying to sell you something, for example. You'll understand how it could take a little while to make a sale until the other person knows you and your business and feels you are trustworthy.

Empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy says, "I understand." But empathy says, "I feel your pain." And THAT'S what people most want. We want others to "get" us in a way that understanding alone cannot bring about. Here are a few tips to help you express empathy for your clients and prospects:

  1. Show them how you've been where they are and tell them how you felt while you were in the same situation. Whether you're selling jewelry or virtual assistance services, you can probably relate to your clients' problems in a very personal way.

  2. Stop selling and start listening —intently.

  3. Never, ever in any circumstance say, "I know how you feel." You can say, "I had something similar happen to me and when it did I felt X. Is that how you feel?"

  4. Remember the Golden Rule and then take it one step further. Don't only treat others as you would like to be treated, but treat others the way you would want your mother, sister, best friend, or other person who is important and special in your life to be treated. After all, these people (clients and prospects) are so special they may give you some of their hard-earned money!

  5. Try to look at the situation from the other's point of view, rather than your own. What possible message could s/he be receiving as a result of your actions or words?

  6. Validate others' feelings as often as possible. People have a right to feel their emotions, regardless of if you agree with them or would feel the same way. Ask, "How can I help?"

By following these simple guidelines, you'll be well on your way to practicing empathy regularly. Once you do, you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by the results!

Copyright 2007. Felicia J. Slattery.

Felicia J. Slattery, M.A., M.Ad.Ed., is a Communication Consultant, Speaker and Coach with more than a decade of experience teaching people effective and powerful communication skills in order to achieve their happiest and most successful lives. Felicia offers a free e-course for small business owners called Increase Business by Communicating Your Credibility at her website: Sign up now!

Photo of Felicia SlatteryYou're welcome to reprint this article online or in print form, as long as it remains complete and unaltered and as long as you include the author information at the end. I'd appreciate if you would email me a link to your reprint. Thanks!

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