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Starting From A Place of Empathy: A Lesson from the Weekend

I’m reading a couple books right now including: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie  and SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. SPIN has been a big focus in my day-to-day at SalesWise. However, Dale’s composition is arguably the focus of every day life.

This weekend led to a perfect opportunity to employ one of the lessons from How to Win Friends from Chapter 3 – “Be empathetic”. What could have started out as a formal complaint or accusation, instead, turned into a moment of empathy and understanding.

The situation: I was at an apartment complex when two women were talking to one another while looking visibly curious and annoyed at an apartment balcony. It turns out that they were looking at the balcony because water was being poured intermittently from the top door to the two balconies below. The two women happened to live on floors directly below.

The women mentioned the water was landing on their balconies and it smelled terrible. We started hypothesizing what was happening including a flood, a nuisance neighbor, etc. At first, there was talk to go straight to the leasing office to lodge a complaint. However, we finally discussed walking up to the neighbor and ask if everything was alright. I accompanied the women in case there were any problems.

As we approached the neighbor’s door, one of the women still seemed perturbed while the other was coming from a place of empathy. After explaining to the man what was happening, the man apologized and explained how he was trying to clean and dilute his pet’s sickness. He was sympathetic and offered to clean the two women’s balconies. He was remorseful, and was tired explaining how his whole weekend had been spent cleaning. However, the dog was starting to feel better, so the situation would not continue too much longer.

The women felt more relieved to know that everything was temporary and empathized with the man’s predicament. In fact, the women who was the more annoyed early on had her own dog with her, so she understood the problem even better.  Everyone left the discussion with better understanding, feeling heard, and no doubt they will all be better neighbors from this.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions and accuse a neighbor of being rude and ignorant. However, approaching the situation with this perspective can create enemies. It’s far better, far more productive to approach from a place of curiosity and empathy.

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