Return on Empathy - in conversation with April Jeffries

April Jeffries
April Jeffries

Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another. It's finding the echoes of another individual in yourself. The importance of empathy in business is often lost in the midst of a corporate environment and a hunger for profit.

April Jeffries, an empathy activist, is sharing with us, the importance of empathy in the workplace. The focus has always been on ROI but is now shifting to ROE. With over 30 years of experience in marketing and strategy, she has spent a lot of time in a corporate environment and hence knows the importance of empathy.

April, ROI is a widely used term. ROE, or return on empathy, however, isn’t. The return on empathy is an intrinsic value, far greater than the book value of accounted assets. Tell us more about your belief in the same and how you implement the concept?

“The holy grail of business is to be able to predict the future — what will consumers want, what trend will sweep over the market and what behavior will influence actions of employees. All of the aforementioned can be (somewhat) achieved if we were all able to empathize. Empathy — an emotion, and something which is seemingly non-quantifiable, can often translate into hard-core financial benefit whilst also valuing customers, patients, employees, and other participants. This brings me to the shift from ROI to ROE — return on empathy. In the corporate environment, return on empathy is almost like finding a lost treasure — it's so rare. However, this intrinsic value, as you said, truly is greater than accounted assets.

“Some are born with empathy. It's an innate trait that comes to them naturally. Others need to force themselves to learn it. Any issue in business — sales, marketing, internal conflict in a company, and so on, can be solved with empathy. You will understand any issue on a deeper level if you have felt it. This holds even more true when you are feeling for someone who is different from you. Learning how to see things from their perspective — that's empathy.

“There are even different kinds of empathy which one should be aware of. Emotional empathy is feeling what somebody is feeling when you quite literally mirror their feelings. Cognitive empathy is understanding why they are feeling a certain way. This involves ‘perspective taking’ And finally, compassionate empathy is balancing mindfulness with compassion. In this case, you understand why a person is feeling the way they are and further taking action to resolve the problem.

“We conducted a study once where we sent out some of our clients in Brazil with a certain amount of money. The amount was small, and they were instructed to sustain themselves throughout the day with that allowance. It was interesting to see what people came back with, and how each one had their own individual struggle as they were not used to having such limited funds. This exercise helped them empathize with those who survive with this kind of money in reality, and not as part of a study. It also allowed us to understand that a lot of the time people are not not empathetic because they don’t want to be. They truly don’t realize, or may not pay attention. It's not intentional. Hence, once someone has the realization, they are able to effectively empathize.”

That is an interesting point of view, thanks April.

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