Empathy is a very underrated characteristic.
If you think about the account handler as the centre of a very large wheel (with the wheel itself being the account) then you can appreciate that you have to understand the needs of many different people to make things happen.
What are some ways to do this effectively?
The best account people are usually very compassionate or at least are perceived to be – even when they don’t really feel like it. I’d define compassion as an empathetic awareness of others – and in my opinion here are a number of things that can help you be more humble/compassionate – even when you don’t want to.
– Listening vs. Hearing – Listening is waiting for your turn to talk. Too often in conversation we only register the words that someone is saying to us while we wait for our turn to pipe up. That’s just hearing. Active listening means paying attention to what is being said. And then thinking about what it means and how you respond or react to it. Try repeating back or rephrasing what someone has said – get some acknowledgement – and then move on. You need to engage & show understanding to be able to ladder a conversation or help spin it in a direction for your message to land.
– This can be a really important place to start a discussion. Ask people what they think – we are often so focused on telling people what we think that we forget to get their opinion. This is particularly important in dealing with people who are not “type A” personalities or quiet people or people who are particularly thoughtful before they speak. You’ll often work with all different personalities in a big team & no matter what you might actually think you have to show people that you really care about what they have to say.
– Details really matter. I can’t stress this enough. You’ll be judged (in service, in strategy, in creative, in production) by the little things. So sweat the small stuff. In conversation with people – take mental notes, use your calendar to take down key dates, take opportunities that make you see things. Pay attention to small details about people – everyone has some level of ego & it’s helpful to use this. The fact that you remember something they said or something seemingly insignificant about them is both flattering and demonstrates that you are really paying attention.
– Try thinking like Frank Miller (arguably one of the finest comic book writers of all time). Have you ever tried to read a person’s “thought balloon”? It’s a great game – but you need to make the effort. Ask – “if I were in that guy’s shoes, what would I think?” Most people’s thought balloons are usually some variation on the theme of “what’s in it for me?” If you have an account person who can figure that out and use it to position things to his advantage you will always be ahead of the game. You need an emotional x-ray to see beneath the surface of what’s going on & make it work for the team.
One final point on empathy: Bill Bernbach used to say that he carried a card around in his wallet and printed on the card was the phrase – “Maybe he’s right.”
Surely this is the best aid to help recall this most important of character traits?