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Many people may not immediately jump to empathy as a guiding principle in business, but this soft-skill is a heavy hitter when it comes to long-term success. Why is empathy important? The ability to understand people past the surface level suggests that you are invested in more than the immediate concerns. The heart of the business is not selling your product or service; it’s selling you to the client. If the client trusts and respects you, they will be more invested in the product, or outcome. ¬†As a consultant in the labor industry for more than four decades, I can attest to the benefits of developing trust with clients and with the client’s opposition. Employing an understanding and patient attitude is key when negotiating between two opposing parties.

The first step in becoming more empathetic is to focus your attention on helping others develop to their full potential. When your primary goal becomes investing in people, not products, you’re able to build healthy, working relationships. This is true for consultants. While there is no physical product to sell, maintaining a transparent relationship with all individuals can help you develop trust.

This becomes a critical step when working with unions. By taking the time to communicate early and often with groups, you begin to understand the critical elements of each goal. Compromising becomes an easier battle when you’re aware of both parties goals. By consulting with each group often, you’re more in tune to what each party desires. Use this to your advantage. The relationship you form with both parties can make or break negotiations.

One of the best ways a leader can practice empathy is to construct a safe environment. This goes hand in hand with communication. By creating a safe environment, all parties involved–clients, employees, managers, even CEO’s, feel comfortable sharing their goals and requests. By cultivating this atmosphere, your company benefits from an increased level of compromise.

Developing this type of atmosphere involves a high level of trust. To gain trust, practice active listening. Get to know your clients or employees on a more personal level to show that you care beyond the scope of the deal. In my experience, making yourself available to talk or visit at moment’s notice also inspires a high level of trust between your working partnership. Consultants who are willing to give the extra time and energy to unionized groups will find it easier to adjust terms or announce long-term plans.

Think of this engagement as an investment that reaps a similar reward to your goal. By adopting an empathetic attitude towards your clients and your client’s opposition, you’ll develop a reputation as an effective and efficient mediator.

Stephen Koppekin