Empathy: walking in someone else’s shoes

March 16, 2018

Bruno Wang Productions was proud to co-produce The Grinning Man, a new musical at Trafalgar Studios in London, which has received daily standing ovations and rave reviews.

What appears to move the audience, in addition to outstanding music and performances, is the work’s key message of empathy.

Grinpayne, the disfigured hero in the play, works as a fairground freak in a travelling circus. All who come to watch him – from a prince to the local peasants – intend to mock, but leave inspired.

In our everyday lives, we have all felt the energising effects of empathy. When we can relate to the experience of others – whether happy and uplifting or a terrible misfortune – we gain insight, understanding, gratitude and motivation to make changes.

Making business sense

Charities and NGOs understand the importance of engaging our compassion, and now businesses, too, are beginning to see the value of using empathy in the workplace.

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, brought out a business book called Hit Refresh last year. In it, Nadella makes clear that he thinks empathy is crucial to modern corporate success. “It’s a value I have learned to deeply appreciate,” he said at an event to publicise the book. “I think of it as not just a nice-to-have, but core to the innovation agenda in the company.”

Other Silicon Valley titans, aware of their vast fortunes and success, are also injecting empathy into their work ethic. Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of the Cloud-computing giant Salesforce, created the 1-1-1 model – by which the company donates 1 per cent of equity, 1 per cent of employee time and 1 per cent of products to non-profits in communities where it operates. Benioff’s model has been in place since 1999 and is lauded and much copied.

Meanwhile Belinda Parmar, who founded consultancy The Empathy Business, thinks there is real financial value in compassion. She has published an empathy index in the Harvard Business Review for the past four years, based on the analysis of internal culture, ethics, leadership and brand perception of 170 of the world’s biggest companies. The top 10 – which included Facebook, Alphabet (Google), LinkedIn and Netflix in 2016 – typically increased their market value by more than twice as much as the bottom 10 companies, according to research conducted by her firm.

Empathy leads to sustainable success and fulfilment

Empathy helps us see the point of view of others and supports open and safe exchanges – vital to boosting employee morale, fostering creativity and bringing a deeper understanding of the market the business serves.

Success, whether in politics, business or personal relationships, is only limited when based on the old-fashioned imposition of views and will, competition or manipulation. Empathy and the resulting emotional intelligence holds the key to reaching a higher level of sustainable success and fulfilment. Empathy enhances collaboration and co-operation. When the world is built in the spirit of empathy, we will have fewer conflicts and tragedies – and more peace, creativity and long-term prosperity.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation