How To Use Sales Assessments To Measure Empathy

BY C. Lee Smith
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Are your sales managers showing little empathy for their direct reports? Organizations experience this problem when leaders fail to use sales assessments to measure empathy during the hiring process. Ultimately, when sales managers don’t encourage employees who are having a tough time and when they show little support for individuals who are struggling, employees react negatively.

The Empathy Disconnect

The 2019 State of Workplace Empathy Study from Businessolver reports that 58% of CEOs have a hard time showing empathy at work. The study points to a disconnect between what employees see happening and what CEOs say is happening. Only 72% of workers say their organization is empathetic. Over 92% of CEOs believe they’re running empathetic organizations.

Why is there such a big disconnect? It can be challenging for sales managers to understand what an employee is going through. Some individuals may come into a management role believing they overcame plenty of struggles to succeed. They may feel that their team members should do the same to prove themselves. That attitude may have worked in old-​school organizations, but it’s not what employees expect today. And, in this competitive job market, employees can easily find another position in a more empathetic organization if they don’t feel supported by their managers. Only 36% of sales reps who participated in our Voice of the Sales Rep survey say that their manager understands and values them as a person.

Use Sales Assessments to Measure Empathy

Without understanding, there can be little empathy. If hiring personnel have neglected to screen for high empathy qualities in their sales manager candidates, they could be setting up the organization for trouble. Screening for empathy is as easy as asking candidates to take an assessment such as TeamTrait™, which measures for this quality. When managers use sales assessments to measure empathy, they’ll have more understanding about which candidates make a better fit for the organization. Candidates who score low on empathy in assessments may ultimately make the world all about them and their self-​centered tendencies will make it hard for them to perform well on a team.

Defining Empathy

Empathy may become one of the important organization qualities in the new decade. But what exactly does empathy encompass? Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman say that empathy includes three separate categories. The most important element in their analysis may be compassionate empathy which “(also known as empathetic concern) goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings: it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can.” 

Organizational Empathy

Organizational empathy exists when the leaders have put a framework in place to support managers and workers who encounter challenges that prevent them from doing their best work. Some of these challenges may be personal. One key issue for today’s workforce is the need to achieve a healthy work-​life balance. Employees expect to receive flexibility and understanding when they suffer from a mental health issue. 

Similarly, employees occasionally run into financial problems. They may find themselves unable to make a car payment. Or they may struggle to come up with the co-​pay for an unexpected medical incident. Some organizations offer insurance coverage for employees to meet with mental health professionals. They may also offer emergency financial assistance to employees. And to treat the root of the problem, instead of just the symptom, organizations may encourage employees to sign up for credit counseling services so they can learn to manage their money.

Organizational empathy also encompasses systemic issues such as a lack of diversity in the workplace. Employees who feel isolated or marginalized because of their skin color, ethnic heritage or sexual orientation won’t perform as well as they could on the job. From the top down, leaders should regularly review and modify policies to help employees feel supported and included. Businesssolver analysts emphasize, “There is no quick fix — for empathy to make an impact, it must be thorough and authentic.”

Managerial Empathy

How can leaders exhibit more empathy in the workplace? First, they should try to understand the employee’s concern fully. Brooke Vuckovic, adjunct professor of leadership at Kellogg, encourages managers to ask questions. For example, an employee may complain that a co-​worker is always taking credit for what they do. In this case, the manager should slow down and ask detailed questions. The manager needs to understand exactly what happened. Did a co-​worker actually take credit or did someone in leadership assume the co-​worker completed the project?

The manager should also keep track of how often a team member complains about this problem. Is there a specific pattern of bad behavior in the organization? Or is the team member taking on the victim role? A manager won’t know unless they take the time to find out.

Managers should also be prepared to dig deeper to get at the employee’s motivation. Is the employee making claims because they feel truly wronged? Or is the employee trying to manipulate the outcome for a specific reason? Managers who spend the time necessary to resolve these situations usually possess a good deal of empathy.

If you’re hiring a sales manager, you’ll want to screen for empathy. Candidates who possess this quality can work wonders in your organization. Employees will feel comfortable sharing their concerns with and stating their needs to these managers. How will you know if a candidate has empathy? Some hiring managers like to go with their gut feeling. If you want to be certain about what you’re getting, ask your candidate to take an assessment like TeamTrait™, which is specifically designed to measure empathy.