Learning to Empathize


Most of my philosophy around “career development” is centered around building relationships and meeting people. People have been the single biggest accelerant of my growth, both on a personal and professional spectrum. There are strategies you can take to automate and hack the networking process, but at the end of the day it still comes down to you being able to start genuine and transparent connections with other people.

Empathy is at the core of this process. You cannot seek to understand how to connect with people without understanding how those people think.

Generally speaking, I believe most people operate under these few fundamental & instinctual human principles:

  • People want to feel important

For better or worse, ego is one of the most powerful drivers of decision making. Without being cognizant of this, we often make choices guided by external validators rather than intuition and logic.

  • People want to win (and feel like they have won)

People like winning. More than that, people hate losing. No one wants to be the loser of a deal.

  • People are lazy

Though not always true, for sake of discussion, we can think that on a macro scale, humans make decisions that maximize value and minimize effort. We are all lazy beings who want the most and we are often unprepared to do the most for them. Bluntly put, we are selfish beings!

Understanding humans is hard. As much as we are logical, we are irrational.

Understanding why we do what we do, however, is incredibly powerful. There are so many questions to answer:

Why we use Facebook? Why we think Basketball is cool? Why we work?

For the purposes of building relationships with others, the question I sought to answer is: why do people say yes? Specifically, why do others take my calls? Why do complete strangers that I found on the internet take 30 minutes to chat about life? Why do people respond to my cold emails? What makes a person with hundreds of millions of dollars and millions of followers take an irrational chance on me and help me out?

The answer lies in empathy.

The best founders are the best empathizers. They understand how their community works and what gives them energy.

A good example: Ryan Hoover with Product Hunt. He and his team understand, at a very granular level, exactly how to get their community motivated and excited.

The best writers are often great empathizers. They know exactly which words evoke which emotions in their readers.

The best restauranteurs know what type of food to cook.

The list goes on and on. To share something with the world, you have to understand the world. Ignoring it is foolish.

It is hard to put yourselves in a stranger’s shoes, but I promise you that even the process of trying will reveal some incredible learnings.

So how do you break out of your bubble and do this?

Surround Yourself With People Not Like You

I make a purposeful effort to talk to people I fundamentally disagree with about things (career wise). For example, at school, none of my friends share my professional interests. Most want to go into Investment Banking or some other Finance related field. Truthfully, it is really tough to go against the grain and hold the contrarian viewpoint. Especially when many of the validators at school point you towards the majority opinion.

When presented with this scenario, there are two things you can do:

  • Ignore Opposing Viewpoints
  • Listen to Them

Too many of us choose to ignore and carry on with our own lives. In doing so, we are, metaphorically, building a wall and closing out new ideologies.

I choose the latter. And I think you should too. Here is why:

Imagine you listen to a viewpoint that conflicts with your own beliefs…there are two resulting scenarios.

The first is that you strongly disagree with what the other person is saying. In that case, you still hold your thoughts and, likely, move to a more extreme viewpoint. In this scenario, the best thing you can do is try and understand why the other person holds that view. In addition, what you can do is learn how to better communicate your stance. If anything, this is super valuable because it confirms your belief in your why, as well as why you are passing up on the alternative.

The second case is that you actually change your mind a bit. Believe it or not, other people often have good thoughts that are vastly different from your own. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind.

Consume Different Things

In the same vain, reading things that oppose your current viewpoint can broaden your horizon and help you think a bit differently than you are used to.

Try considering the other side of the table.

Try following a different type of crowd on Twitter. Try opening up a new publication to read. Watch a different type of show.

Travel

At the age of 19, I have been lucky enough to travel the world. I have been all over Europe, Israel, across America.

The world is a fascinating place with tons of diversity.

You meet all sorts of people when you travel. You eat different kinds of foods. You see different sports. Different things.

Seeing the world in person is one of the best ways to break out of your bubble.


I believe that, as humans, our most valuable asset is our ability to empathize.

Keep your opinions strong. But hold them weakly. Be open to change. But be confident in your own beliefs.

I’d love to hear how you have learned/are learning to empathize?

Comment 👇 or tweet me @jrdngonen

Always here to help -> jordangonen1@gmail.com
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