How many of you like grocery shopping?

The Gap of Empathy

How many of you like grocery shopping?

I, for one, love making a list and organising the way I shop for groceries. Even before entering the store, I like to plan my route through the various sections I need to visit to buy everything off my list. However, the way I shop for groceries when I am hungry is an entirely different ball game. I completely ignore the list and directly go to the aisle with chips and other ready to eat snacks. I even hog a lot of items at the bakery in the store as well. Every time I go shopping with an empty stomach, I completely regret it later. 

Please make me feel better and tell me that I am not the only one. Do you think sometimes emotions get the best out of you while shopping or while making any other decision? Although we all hope to make decisions based on rationality and logic, is that always possible? While you think about these questions, look at what I have in store for you today. 

Today we will talk about something called the Empathy gap. The empathy gap describes our tendency to underestimate the influence of varying mental states on our behaviour and make decisions that only satisfy our current emotions, feeling, or state of being. It is also referred to as the hot-cold empathy gap. Hot and cold depict two visceral forms. A hot visceral state is when we are influenced by a strong emotion like hunger, fear or sexual tension. Whereas a cold visceral state is, we are thinking clearly without any significant influence from emotions. 

As humans, we keep swinging between the cold and the hot state. The gap occurs when we fail to acknowledge the temporary nature of our mental state and fail to empathise with others who are not in the same mental state as us. We either overestimate our tendency to be rational or believe that we will always be in a heated state. 

For example, imagine that you are being mugged by a man holding a knife. What would you do in this situation? I am sure that most of us would like to say that we will either run or defend ourselves. However, what we fail to take into account is the grip of fear we will be in. When under attack, we will go through a rush of various emotions, which will hugely influence our further actions. This is an example of us underestimating the influence of emotions. 

Now let’s look at another example, imagine that you had a major fight with your friend. In that moment of anger and frustration, we all end up saying some things that we shouldn’t. Or we refuse to apologise because we are angry. This happens because at that moment, we think that we will always be this angry, which is really not the case. In most cases, our strong feelings subside, and we start to reason again.

Both the above examples demonstrate the empathy gap. We could not correctly predict how we would behave in both situations because we made our predictions based on our current emotional states. In the first example, because we were in a cold state, we assumed that we would always make decisions based on logic and completely disregard the involvement of emotions. On the contrary, in the second example, we were in a hot state and assumed that we would always be in this state. As these examples demonstrate, the empathy gap acts as an obstacle for making the best decision for our long term goals, and it can occur in either direction, from hot-to-cold or cold-to-hot.

So far, we have looked at examples that showcase our inability to understand our behaviour. But empathy gap occurs even when we are trying to predict others’ behaviour. It is when we fail to predict how other people can be affected by their emotions. Think about it like this: when you are in a cold state and see your friend acting out of anger, you struggle to understand their behaviour. This is nothing but an empathy gap. The empathy gap also leads to our inability to understand other people’s perspectives, leading to conflict. 

But why am I telling you this?

Just like everyone else, your customers also showcase the empathy gap. Their empathy gap is your problem as well because unpredictable customers are not good news. More importantly, your brand itself can be a victim of these gaps. A study on more than 350 brands revealed that around 76% of brands considered themselves customer-centric; however, customers only voted for 31% of the brands as customer-centric. 

Do you realise you might not be aware of how unaware you are :P

One of the best ways to bridge this gap, both for your customers and yourself, is to involve customers every step of your way. On the other hand, building a business or a product in a vacuum without considering your customer’s needs will only take you so far. 

Here are a couple of ways you can involve your customers in your brand - 

  1. Usability testing - Designers, product managers, marketers, and researchers alike can uncover and understand how real people respond to products and experiences through usability testing. From what they like and dislike, to where they get stuck and confused, to areas of improvement, the valuable insight gathered from these tests are sure to be eye-opening.

  1. Customer interviews - Remember, people love to talk, especially about themselves and their opinions. So asking your customers about their opinion will give you a better insight and make the customers feel appreciated and important.

  1. Focus on qualitative data along with quantitative one - In today’s day and age, it is very easy for brands to get their hands on a large amount of customer data. However, there is a scarcity of qualitative data on customers. The depth that qualitative data provides can not be reached just by using quantitative data. 

Some quick takeaways - 

  • The empathy gap describes our tendency to underestimate the influence of varying mental states on our behaviour and make decisions that only satisfy our current emotions, feeling, or state of being.

  •  It is also referred to as the hot-cold empathy gap. Hot and cold depict two visceral forms.

  • The empathy gap acts as an obstacle for making the best decision for our long term goals, and it can occur in either direction, from hot-to-cold or cold-to-hot.

  •  The empathy gap also leads to our inability to understand other people’s perspectives, leading to conflict. 

One last thing …

The best way to avoid the empathy gap is to give in to your emotions. Don’t fight your emotions, instead make peace with them and try to understand them. The better understanding you have of your emotions, the more predictable they will be for you. Once you can predict your emotions better, you will make better and more informed decisions.