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Empathy Will Kill You

Emotional withdrawal of solvent consumers

The best professionals are examining many aspects of the effects of the COVID-19 economic crisis. Many are trying to assess what awaits us in the upcoming months and years. How will consumers behave? Why will they start buying again, or why will they avoid spending money? It is shocking, but one of the most important and positive personality traits can cause the most economic damage.

Levels of empathy

We are not all equally blessed with empathy. Different doses of this personality trait cause real differences in our personalities throughout our lives. It is definitely important to note that even though this trait is a clear positive in our private lives – and the higher its quantity, the prouder we are of ourselves – the negative side of this personality trait appears in our professional lives. During many business development projects, a significant challenge is managing the level of empathy of employees by placing colleagues with varying levels of empathy in different areas. Where can excessive empathy be dangerous? Firstly, in leadership positions. Leaders beyond a certain level of empathy seriously struggle to make decisions that affect others. To fire someone, even if the person is not fit for the job, is a challenge! And in the sales area, where it is great to say that a manager is very empathetic when it comes to nurturing relationships, they can over-prioritize the interests of the client, which can cause harm to their employer in the short run; plus, the client will no longer be in a favourable position in the long run. Very few people know that one personality trait usually attracts several others, and this is one of the most important advantages of personality-based sciences.

So, if we are a significantly empathic person, then we are a lot more thoughtful, subjective, and we do not always focus on facts and numbers. We follow the leading figures; that is, we are “followers”, and in many cases, our logic is also drowned out by excessive doses of empathy. This, of course, does not mean that an empathetic person cannot be logical, but it does mean that if they focus too much on emotions and understanding others, they can lose their sober mind; they can lose their common sense and the path of objectivity.

This is why the smartest HR professionals handle this personality trait very carefully. When they communicate with others, they think that they need to praise this feature as if there can never be too much of it. Yet, within their own organisation, they are much more objective about its limits. The HR field itself has undergone a significant transformation in terms of required personalities, because, for example, the traditional, very empathetic “HR tone” is not only not needed but is even rejected by the members of the Ambitionist Generation (those born between 1985 and 1996). They want to see determined, strong, guiding, strategic HR professionals during the interviews; they expect these people to help them manage their careers, so they have no interest in an empathetic attitude.

Empathy vs decision-making

Empathy directly influences our decision-making during our purchases. Not to mention that we buy certain products to do good to others, which is also an essential part of the consumer market. What is more important now given the COVID Crisis is that empathising with the situation of others, understanding their troubles, and embracing them at some level can be a major deterrent to the launch of the consumer market. Serious tragedies have occurred worldwide so far in 2020 as a result of the virus. Effects have been both private and professional. This is also why many professionals point to the mental ramifications of not being able to boast of success now because it seems tasteless. It’s like a fierce competition, say, the final of a 1,500-metre run, where everyone expects a race to the finish. It’s a race notorious for shocking finishes, and we have four or five championship hopefuls running head-to-head. While rounding the curve before the final 100 meters, every competitor except for one falls flat on their faces and is unable to show what they are made of down the home stretch. Of course, our champion is happy in the end when he crosses the finish line with no one near him, but since his competitors failed after several years of preparation due to an unfortunate, unexpected event, his victory tastes bittersweet, and it doesn’t reflect well on him if he beams a huge smile at the camera or screams in victory.

Empathy Will Kill You
DECISION illustration

COVID has been even worse; it has made people feel like they were disqualified before the final, so instead of having to beat the current 1,500 world record of 3:26, the “survivors” only have had to run a sub-6:00 race. This effect will have a direct impact on consumer society now and in the years to come. Buying a trendy, brand-name product that I don’t need at all just to show that I have it? Normally, this is a motivating factor behind purchases for certain consumer groups. But in the current situation, it is inappropriate behaviour!

Is it OK to spend money on non-necessities, such as travel, when tens of millions have lost their jobs? This isn’t really appropriate, either! So, what is appropriate nowadays, at least for a significantly empathetic customer? Spending money only on things that someone really needs. Not necessarily what they need, but what people in general need! They use services, but only up to a level that is neither flashy nor calls attention to how well they are doing. Is this effect harmful? We cannot evaluate this in a vacuum! From a socio-political point of view, it is not necessarily a bad thing that fewer people will exhibit the differences between rich and poor! On the other hand, by not showing them, the differences will be even more drastic than ever!

Economic tragedy

While the appearance of empathy in such a transformation can still be assessed from a human point of view, the phenomenon poses a clear, grave threat to everyone from an economic perspective. This is because the economy needs, more than ever, to embark on a new path. And this requires that the “follower” consumer group, where the average empathy level is significant, needs to find itself as quickly as possible. It needs to evaluate the situation, draw objective lessons, calculate how much they have lost as a result of the crisis, and in addition to rethinking consumer behaviour, they need to start shopping. For entrepreneurs and companies, it is imperative that this empathy-driven consumer group returns to the markets and does not sit at home for fear of new tragedies, or just wallowing in personal tragedy or those they have seen in the news. Why is this so important?

The crisis is already evident in the numbers. Most economies have already witnessed unprecedented GDP declines because of the initial round of lockdowns. The numbers are already distressing, although many companies are hopeful that things will pick up again soon. Yet even the first signs are not encouraging, at least not for all consumer groups. Although there are many countries where life is starting to get back to normal, shoppers have not returned to the extent that experts expected. In general, we are witnessing an extraordinary new phenomenon. Although it is well known that the most solvent buyers are not affected by economic crises, at least not to the same extent as the middle class, we cannot see the expected progress in this regard. But premium buyers have returned to the market. They have been cooped up for months, they have money, and because they couldn’t spend it on their traditional hobbies, they have even more purchasing power than before the crisis.

There is one solvent target group that does not particularly care how an exclusive vacation or buying a new luxury vehicle affects the masses. They know that they have worked for it, and many people objectively deserve it – there are obviously questionable consumers in this regard – and that is precisely why the general economic situation does not deter them. They won’t travel domestically to “get out some”; instead, they’ll visit exclusive international hotspots where possible. The other solvent target group, however, is earnest about what society expects of them in such a situation. As a result, they have already started not to buy even necessary products to avoid being considered “too much” in someone’s eyes. For companies that focus on this target group, this is cutting off their oxygen. If economists, marketing, and sales colleagues do not find the right ways to deal with this phenomenon, we can say for sure that this crisis will be longer and more devastating than ever. If we do not buy because of empathy, fewer economic actors will survive 2020, meaning fewer jobs are available, resulting in further distress for many people. There is something terrible about empathy being able to wreak such havoc in business. However, during business development, it is highly recommended to focus on this phenomenon!