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Want to Become More Empathetic? Try This Weird Strategy


“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” - Maya Angelou

Empathy is in all of us but it can sometimes be difficult to convey the feeling. This makes for an interesting situation for salespeople. Your prospects want you to relate to them in both their success and pain, but … you might not know quite how to do that.

So how can a rep who struggles with demonstrating empathy flip the switch and showcase their concern for a prospect? The first step might just be to keep some Velcro or a cactus nearby, according to a new study.

Researchers from the United States, Canada, and China set out to determine how people can become more empathetic, and they came away with a surprising finding. According to the research, when a person goes through a rough physical sensation they suddenly become more empathetic to others. The study states, “Incidental exposure to haptic sensation of roughness (versus smoothness) increases individuals’ attention to the unfortunate others.”

But this doesn’t mean you need to be tackled by a 300-pound linebacker to become more empathetic (although that would certainly make you feel some pain). Your path to empathy starts the second you rub your fingers across a rough surface.

In five experiments, people who felt a rough sensation became more empathetic and were willing to give more to those in need. In other words, after encountering a rough surface, your brain reacts as is if you’re in serious pain and increases your feeling for those who are less fortunate. Pacific Standard Magazine captured the results of the study perfectly: “When we experience the sensation of roughness, we care more about people who have it rough.”

In sales, being empathetic enables reps to better connect with prospects. The potential buyer needs help solving a pain point and salespeople must be there to listen, inform, and guide throughout the process.

Do you struggle with expressing empathy to your buyers? Use the results of this study to your advantage by keeping a few rough surfaces on your desk -- such as a strip of Velcro, sandpaper, or a cactus -- and touching them before a call.

Empathy can be a rep’s secret weapon. Instead of persuading prospects, showing genuine concern allows you to connect with them on a deeper level. Empathy is as important a sales tool as the ability to provide actionable advice.

Suddenly sales doesn’t seem so rough, huh?

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