Empathy is not optional. It's not 'touchy-feely'. It's actually an essential skill if you want to achieve any kind of success in business or in life. And it's becoming more and more essential every day. Let me tell you why.

Let's start with definitions. What is empathy?

Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

So, empathy is about sharing someone else's feelings. Sounds a little soft, right?

Especially if you're a man like me, you may think that empathy is kind of optional. Definitely not essential for success in the business world; where we're all about facts, logic, numbers and hard negotiations to increase our bottom lines, right?

Even if you do value empathy in business relationships, you may think that it's mostly just a way of being nice. It's your gift to the world. You don't just care about yourself and the cold hard facts, but sometimes you also soften your heart and empathize with other people. How sweet of you, right?

Wrong!

Having empathy is actually not optional at all. It's dead essential if you want to achieve any kind of success in business or in life. And it is becoming more and more so every day.

Why?

Well, let's back up a little bit and think about what the most essential thing is in business. The most essential thing in business is that you create value. Whether it be for your boss or for your customers, you need to create value for other people. It is the only way to have any kind of job or run any kind of business in a market economy.

So why do you need empathy for this?

Before you can create value for others, you first have to understand what it is that they will value the most. You will have to understand them and their needs first. And the only way to figure out what their needs are is to put yourself in their shoes and try to see the world from their perspective.

If you're an entrepreneur, trying to create a new product for a new market, this is an especially essential skill. But it's just as essential if you're trying to sell your work or yourself.

Even if the only time you're selling yourself is in a job interview; you need to find a way to understand what kind of value this company is looking for, and how you and your skills fit into that. Otherwise, you're just an empty suit.

Suits on display at a clothing store.

Having empathy will also help you to be great at your job, while you're doing it. Because everybody appreciates someone being proactive, bosses and customers alike.

You're proactive when you see a problem arise and fix it before it turns into an actual issue. To do that, you need empathy. You need to understand what people will value, before they explicitly tell you.


Maybe you still think this doesn't apply to you. Maybe you're not an entrepreneur and you don't want to be one, you have a job and you don't work in sales or business development. So you may think that you don't need to be empathetic to create value. You can just get away with doing as you're told.

Not likely.

There are fewer and fewer jobs where you can get away with just doing what you're told. If you need someone else to provide you with detailed instructions on how to go about creating value; you are going to find it very hard to stay employed.

Because there is competition on the rise. This competition is meticulously accurate, works day and night, doesn't require healthcare benefits or comfortable working conditions and never complains. The only thing it requires is detailed instructions: code.

You cannot out-obedience the competition.
– Seth Godin

As automation takes over the world, the only jobs that will remain are the jobs where the required skills are uniquely human: creativity and empathy.

You will always be able to empathize with other human beings very easily, because you are one yourself. And that is what will forever set you apart from computers and other intelligent machines.

This empathizing will allow you to imagine new ways to help other people, and with your creativity, you can figure out how exactly you can make this happen. And those are skills that are always going to be incredibly valuable – and uniquely human.

So, if you want to be successful in business and in life, and continue to do so in the future; don't just focus on cold hard facts and numbers.

Don't think it's soft and weak to empathize with people and try to understand how they feel.

Especially if you consider yourself a tough, hard man, that values cold hard facts over "touchy-feely" stuff, beware. You may soon find yourself replaced by something tougher, harder and colder than you'll ever be: a machine made out of metal.

Disregard empathy at your own peril.