Last Updated on 2024/03/01

Dear Friends,

In an effort to make True Insights more useful, we’re changing to a more concise format and increasing the focus on practical techniques.I hope you find it helpful.

Empathy: A Weapon of Influence

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to get people to willingly do what we want them to do.

Over a long career in sales, marketing, and people development, I believe that empathy is among the most effective ways to exertpositive influence on others.

I used the word weapon intentionally. Empathy is like a hammer or a saw. It can build strong relationships or it can be used tomanipulate and harm others.

A true story from my sales and training career may prove more useful than a theoretical discussion of the nature of empathy.

A Potential Client

Several years ago I visited a new potential client in Taipei on behalf of a training company I was working for.

I finished my first meeting of the day early and arrived 30 ahead of schedule. I bought a coffee in the lobby cafe, sat down, and startedthinking about my agenda. What did I want from this meeting? How would I make that happen? I quickly decided on my plan of attackand the points I would cover.

I had time left over and instead of checking e-mail, I started thinking about what my counterpart might want from this meeting.What might his working life be like? What might he care about? What might he dislike or want to avoid?

The Meeting

The first thing I did in our meeting after exchanging name cards was to start asking him about himself.

I barely got the first question out when he raised his palm toward me and said:
“True, I’m a sales trainer. You can stop trying build a connection with me. I’m very busy today, so let’s get right to the agenda. I wantyou to answer two questions for me. First, how do I know your Chinese is fluent enough to deliver training in Mandarin? Second, why
should I work with your company when there are hundreds of other vendors to choose from?” 

Then he smiled and said “Go.”

That was a first for me, but I did not feel upset because I’d already considered the possibility he might not be thrilled about this meeting,which he did not request or set up.

He was in charge of sales force effectiveness, so he was very familiar with training. I was sure he’d seen good and probably a lot ofbad workshops.

My Response

I switched into Chinese and asked him if he’d ever worked with a foreign-born trainer who claimed to be able to deliver in Mandarin?He replied with a terse “Yes,” and I asked him whether the advertising matched the reality. He said that the trainer was NOT fluent in Mandarin and the program had not gone well.

I got lucky because I found an opportunity to use a Chinese proverb that few non-native speakers are able to use correctly (因材施教).  He smiled and said “Okay, you passed the first test. Now, tell me why we should spend money with you.”Again, I answered by asking questions about his experiences.
1. What was the best workshop you attended last year? Why?
2. What was the worst workshop you attended last year? Why?
These are some of my favorite questions to ask when I want to collaborate with someone new.
The Breakthrough

He was open with me about his experiences. As I listened, I learned what he cares about, and what he dislikes. That made my own comments less of a sales pitch and allowed more of a two way conversation about what makes a training workshop effective.I walked out of the meeting with a commitment to four workshops and the start of a positive, collaborative working relationship.

The Point

The point is not what a superstar sales consultant I am. I came upon the approach I used by accident, but it stuck with me. The point is that empathy was the key to connecting with someone I wanted to connect and work with.

If you ask someone what empathy means, they will usually say something like “It means you know what another person is thinking or feeling.”

This is perfectly correct, but how do you remember to empathize, and how do you use empathy as a positive tool?

What I learned from this experience: Using empathy well takes a little planning. You have to take time to think about what the other side might be thinking and feeling BEFORE you engage in a conversation. 

I ended up turning this experience into a mechanism I use before any important conversation, so I can be at my best, most positive, most influential self in that discussion.

What empathy mechanisms could you develop and implement to make you more powerful and influential? For more on Empathy Mechanisms, see our True Talk video here:  True Talk #2: Empathy

Yours in Learning,




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