When Empathy is Hard – Finding the Best Way to Connect with Consumers

We talk about empathy – a lot. It’s a core principle that underpins everything we do at Seek. We believe it’s
the best way to connect with consumers, to draw out all that’s unsaid, and to enable yourself to be
transformed – sometimes in small doses, and sometimes in massive waves.

“Empathy” has become both an answer and a question recently. It’s been cited in articles, op-eds, and
common conversation as the way to unlock understanding; to bridge the divide; a tool whose apparent absence brought us to where we are, on opposing sides of the aisle, comfortably rooted in echo chambers
that widen the gap considerably.

The reality is that echo chambers can make us feel safe. Within them, our beliefs are validated. People
understand us. We can let our guard down and relax rather than worry about constantly protecting our
position. But the more settled in we get, the harder it can be to lift up, look out and connect with people
outside those echo chambers.

For many, the last few months have highlighted challenges that go beyond politics to deeper issues about
community, belonging, what it means to be an American, and what it means to be a human. Empathy can
take us to particularly murky places where we’re forced to play Tetris with our truths – and trying to make
them all fit together can feel impossible.

At Seek, our work is focused on the whole human, deepening category understanding by exploring the
context of a real person’s life. We learn about their motivations, dreams, challenges, and concerns. In the
months surrounding the election last year, it became nearly impossible to have a conversation without
touching on politics. There was a heightened focus on values on both sides – especially how those values
impact the way they’re choosing to engage and spend within categories.


Practicing empathy requires courage. It can be hard not to take things personally, and to back away from the connection as a result. To put yourself into the midst of someone else’s emotional space, to sit with their truth and respect how real it is to them – regardless of how that resonates with your own truth – is a challenge worth tackling. While one or two empathic conversations won’t solve the world’s problems, they pave the path to understanding.So what do you do when empathy is hard?

Here are six tips on how to practice empathy when the connections aren’t so clear:

  1. Remember our common human bond. You don’t have to agree on everything to connect to the
    base desires and needs that we all seek to thrive. The person sitting across from you is a human,
    first and foremost. Start there.
  2. Every now and then, you just have to admit to yourself that you might not like this person very
    much. And that’s okay. Empathy is not about liking someone. Empathy is about getting to the
    core of what they’re feeling, and following your curiosity to that end. Acknowledging it in your
    mind, or even going so far as to scribble it down to get it out of your brain, goes a long way to
    clearing the path for a constructive conversation.
  3. Listen as if you’ve never heard anything about the topic before. Remember that there’s a reason
    they stand by their views, as much as there’s a reason you stand by yours. Put your biases aside to
    fully receive their logic and understand the roots that feed into them.
  4. Try to inhabit the stories they tell you. Stories are a primary tool in fostering empathy.
    Grounding an experience in the people, places, and events that surround that recollection can
    help provide breakthrough understanding.
  5. Humans are messy. Expect nothing less. Allow them – and yourself – grace in the process. Reflect. When you’ve worked hard to foster an empathic connection – in work and in your personal life – it can take time and energy to unpack it all. Be sure to give yourself quiet time after to reflect on what you learned, away from others, so you’re processing all you learned through your own archives.
  6. Empathy isn’t a route to agreement. It’s a tool that supports us when we muster the courage to go in deep. To listen. To learn. To reflect on what things must feel like over there, and think about how they feel over here. To find the space in between where humanity wants to live.

If you’re interested in deepening your team’s ability to foster empathy with those they serve, we can help
you. You can meet Amee Patel in person at the upcoming Qual360 North America conference on April 5-6 in Washington D.C. or reach out to info@seekcompany.com – We are always up to continue the conversation.

Editors Note: This article is re-posted with permission from Seek Company.

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