In a recent survey of CEOs, more than 80 percent said that empathy is critical to business success, both in terms of building a great culture and outreach to prospects.

More than a dozen years ago, the Harvard Business Review published a report saying that empathy was the most critical element for sales success.

We’ve touched upon empathy in previous posts, but thought we’d take a deeper dive today to give you a better understanding of how empathy can drive your real estate business.

In a strange way, there has been a resurgence in attention to empathy because of the pandemic. Because so many of us were impacted by the pandemic, especially in the early “lock down” months, it was easier to relate to what another person was going through.

But what’s interesting is that sellers rarely make the connection between empathy and their performance. Fear often drives sellers to be overly aggressive because they don’t want to miss any opportunities that come their way. They fail to recognize that their well-meaning attempts to create rapport often results in the famous “fight or flight” response from their prospects. “Stop selling me!”

Let’s walk through a few tips on how you can harness the power of empathy to be a better real estate agent.

First, let’s start with some basic definitions.

Empathy is the ability to understand what another person is experiencing and feeling. Or, put more simply: you put yourself in another person’s shoes.

Now, a few tips on how empathy plays out in the world of sales:

  • Sympathy is not empathy: Empathy is about putting yourself in the place of someone else. Sympathy, on the other hand, is about feeling bad that someone is going through a certain experience. Sympathy is not bad, it’s just not great for building connections or rapport with a prospect. Listen carefully, and before jumping in to offer sympathy or paint a silver lining, take a breath. Are you understanding the situation? If an expired listing homeowner is angry because you’re the xth real estate agent to call that day, be empathetic: “Yes, I can appreciate that. I find real estate agents annoying too.”
  • Search for deeper responses to questions: Yes, you want your prospect to do most of the talking, meaning you need to ask good questions. But try to stay away from “pat” answers to typical conversation starters. Most people will start a conversation by saying “How are you?” The pat answer is “I’m fine, how about you.” Perhaps you respond to how are you with something that invites a deeper response: “Fine, but I’d be a lot better if I had a few more hours in each day.” Or, “great, but I’m still trying to figure out how the Christmas season snuck up on me.”
  • Be subtly helpful: Another knee-jerk conversation response is “how can I help.” But if you’re asking solid questions and listening carefully, you can get a feel for their pain points, and possibly help with a solution. Perhaps they’re planning to relocate and you can offer to connect them with someone in their new city. Or, maybe they need to do some work on their house to get it ready to sell, and you can identify trusted contractors or trade specialists (plumbers, etc.) Being strategically helpful is a great way to build rapport. And trust.
  • Don’t FAKE empathy: If you think faking empathy will help you make a connection with someone, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Never say “I understand” unless you truly understand what someone might be experiencing. And even then, you still need to be careful about thinking you might know what someone is experiencing. Be genuine and caring.

It takes work to cultivate empathy; it’s much easier to be sympathetic because you don’t have to “put yourself in their shoes.” Learn how to interject empathy into your prospecting efforts, but carefully, and not aggressively. Use empathy to build rapport and, more importantly, trust with your prospects.