The term ‘empathy’ stems from the Greek ‘en’ meaning ‘in’, and ‘pathos’ referring to a sense of ‘feeling sorrow or suffering’. From this, the term ‘Einfühlung’ was coined in the German language to refer to the projection of human feeling into works of art and nature, and the concept was translated and introduced into the English language as ‘empathy’ in 1909 by Edward Titchener.
Empathy is widely spoken about in terms of ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’, and while this analogy touches upon what empathy is, the concept itself is far more complex and arduous to define. The Oxford English Dictionary describes empathy as being ‘the power of projecting one's personality into (and so fully comprehending) the object of contemplation’, again suggesting a transference of perspective.
Empathy is crucial in the business world. For example, at DRG Abacus:
- We aim to understand the client’s perspective in order to better comprehend their objectives
- We remind ourselves to empathise with our clients’ time constraints. Our commitment to clarity, brevity and careful use of design/graphics are a direct result of this choice
- In our patient-reported outcomes work, particularly in the context of concept elicitation interviews, empathy is a vital skill. It helps us to find the most powerful and relevant patient-reported concepts to assess within clinical trials, inform trial endpoints, and ultimately include in economic models and HTA submissions
A large portion of my PhD was conducted on the concept of empathy, specifically looking at how medical students can be trained to empathise with patients. The idea behind this is that empathy allows doctors to elicit more information from a patient, enabling their diagnosis to be more accurate, which improves the level of care.
Now, some major pharmaceutical companies are seeing the benefits of empathy in relation to their products. For example, Johnson and Johnson (J&J) have placed empathy at the heart of their communication strategy by developing a series of apps which are positioned as ‘apps that show empathy’. These include a sleep routine app for babies, a smile app for visually impaired users of their dental hygiene products, and a smoking cessation app. Another example is the work being done by Kaléo, who produce the EpiPen rival Auvi-Q. They have recently teamed up with Minor League Baseball to encourage teams to host ‘peanut free games’ for allergy suffers.
To explore the idea that empathy can dramatically enhance our business behaviour, we will be asking 10 of our DRG colleagues prior to teleconferences to take 90 seconds to actively empathise with the needs of their clients and colleagues ahead of their meeting. We will then ask them after the meeting about the impact this had, and whether they feel they provided a better service as a result. Outcomes from this will be posted in our next blog…