It can be challenging to be empathetic. It’s easy when the situation obviously calls for demonstrating compassion and understanding, like when a small child is upset or a puppy is injured.
It’s far more difficult when the conduct at issue is hostile or unreasonable. Yet, it’s those times where showing your empathetic side can pay the biggest dividends.
After the publication of one of my books, my agent called to tell me I had been invited to appear on The O’Reilly Factor. I was familiar with the show and reluctant to go on it. O’Reilly was often rude and obnoxious. He thrived on confrontation. This didn’t seem like a good venue to promote a book on investing.
My agent allayed my concerns. She told me his producer said he was a “big fan of my books.” I relented.
My appearance went pretty much as you might imagine. It started to go downhill before we were even on camera. When I entered the studio, O’Reilly never looked up from his desk or introduced himself. On camera, he went straight for the jugular, accusing me of enabling investors to “whine” about their experiences with brokers.
I responded in kind, punching back hard. I met every attack with a counter-attack.
We sold a lot of books, but I felt my performance was a disaster.
We are now confronting an easily avoidable measles outbreak. It’s wholly attributable to the “anti-vaxxer” movement, which believes measles vaccinations cause autism and have other adverse side effects.
The overwhelming scientific evidence refutes this claim. By failing to vaccinate their children, these parents put vulnerable babies and adults at risk of an illness that can have serious complications.
The hostility towards anti-vaxxers is understandable. It’s also counter-productive.
Objections raised by prospects
You have probably had the experience of prospects strongly advocating for investing in a way you know isn’t supported by the evidence. They may want to day trade, use technical analysis, invest in alternative funds, engage in stock picking and market timing or ask you to find actively managed mutual funds likely to outperform prospectively.
The role of empathy
Each of these situations could be dealt with more effectively using empathy, in lieu of persuasion or advocacy.
What if I had responded to O’Reilly with kindness and understanding, acknowledging his concerns and then showing how my book addressed them?
What if health care providers adopted the same approach. As pediatrician, Dorothy R. Novick, noted in this article, This is why I find, and studies confirm, that the most productive way to discuss vaccines with hesitant parents is with empathy. Empathy for the love of a parent who deeply wants what is best for his or her child. Empathy for each parent’s concerns, whether or not they are grounded in fact.
You can use empathy when dealing with a prospect who expresses reservations about your approach to investing. Listen to their point of view with an open mind. Don’t take their views as an insult or an assault on your expertise. Acknowledge the pros and cons of their views and yours.
Ask them if they have questions. Inquire whether they would like more information.
Above all, treat them with respect and understanding.
Resource of the week
I recommend this article by Dorothy R. Novick in which she discusses how she handles objections from parents to vaccinating their children. It was enlightening.