Empathy and the Power of a Smile


Today I’m headed out for yet another week on the road. With an early Sunday morning flight I’m running a few minutes behind.  No worries though I’m comfortable that I have plenty of time. I get through security and to the gate with a few minutes to spare as I take the time to thank one of our soldiers in uniform for his service.  Which by the way, I always do and encourage everyone to do the same.



I am traveling on one of those regional jets, a CJ200 I believe, with a full flight. As I get to my seat (an aisle) an elderly lady who is traveling with her husband asks if I would consider giving up my seat so that she can have her husband sit next to her. His seat is in the same row only across the aisle as a window seat. I’m not a fan of the window seat, especially on these small planes, as it can be pretty uncomfortable but being the nice guy I am, I trade seats.

Shortly after I move to the window seat, I notice a very large man struggling to get down the aisle. My worst thoughts are confirmed as he attempts to maneuver into the aisle seat next to me. Now when I say large, I’m talking roughly 6’1″ and not an ounce under 450 pounds. He is so large that he has to lift the arm rest just to get into the seat. Feeling like I’m part of one of those old fraternity pranks where they squeeze 20 folks into a phone booth, I find myself smashed into the side of the plane. I’m thinking, wow, I REALLY screwed up.

As I’m trying to find some sort of a comfortable position, “Jumbo Johnny” pulls out a MacDonald’s bag and proceeds to devourer a Big Mac and large fry in a matter of seconds. While I’m sitting there I find myself wondering why in God’s name, would someone who is this large be eating like that. My thoughts are quickly interrupted by a jolt from behind as I quickly discover that a 3 year old version of the Karate Kid is sitting directly behind me.

As we take off I’m trying everything I can to maintain my cool. I look over at the elderly couple holding hands and smiling and I say to myself, “I can do this, it’s a short flight”, besides they looked so sweet. Approaching mid-flight, I feel “Jumbo Johnny” pressing further against me as he slips into a Big Mac coma. Meanwhile the Karate Kid continues diligently perfecting his front thrust kick (can you say, case of wipe lash?)  as the flight attendant rolls the beverage cart down the aisle. As she notices my obvious discomfort, she flashes a big smile and mouths the words, “I’m so sorry”, are you OK”?

At that point I realized just how important a friendly smile, and a simple acknowledgment of the situation, can mean to someone. It got me thinking about how many times that we see a situation where customers are struggling or are challenged by a situation, and although you can’t necessarily change the situation, a little empathy can go a long way. 

Simply put, empathy is the ability or capacity to recognize the feelings that are being experience by someone else. It’s a method of showing a little bit of compassion to the plight of others. In sales, empathy is an important trait for success. Empathy for your clients and their situation will help you to establish trust and enable you to build long term relationships.

So next time you are confronted with a situation where it is obvious that a challenge exists, never under estimate the power of a smile and showing some empathy.

Do you have empathy? Do you feel it’s important in sales?

Please share your thoughts and comments.


Categories: Sales

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