Empathy – A Place For It In Event Management?

Pill Bottles labeled ‘A Dose of Empathy’“Empathy is the ability to understand others. It’s a critical business tool.” were Carly Fiorina’s opening words at a recent panel discussion I attended. Fiorina and her fellow panelist view empathy as an essential part of leadership, and vital for corporate success. This led me to wonder if, and where, there is a place for empathy in event management.

Being empathic simply is imagining ourselves in another person’s shoes. And then acting accordingly!

This skill certainly is one every event manager needs to perfect. Operating empathically often means bringing business down to a personal and emotional level. – The people-level. And in event management, people are the one factor that can make or break an event.

There is no doubt in my mind that empathy has a huge place in managing events.

Hundreds of minds are involved in an event’s lifespan. This includes team members, sponsors, guests, speakers, contractors, and many more. Factors such as individual life lessons, personality types, education, professional motivations, hierarchies, and responsibilities play a factor in how all involved work with each other.

Especially in a fast paced and creative industry such as event management, many challenges can arise, stemming from these differences. Being empathetic with those around us can help reduce critical situations, and steer your event towards success.

Be empathetic … When things go wrong
Especially during crunch time, many things can go wrong. When they do, take a deep breath and show empathy: hold back your instinct to lecture or explode. Rather, try to understand the other person’s point of view. As Angel Cabrera bluntly put it: “… if you find [the] discipline to shut up and listen, you will learn aspects of the failure you had no idea about.“ Only react, once you understand the circumstances. Correct where correction is needed. Say no when you have to. But be sure to communicate your decision in a way you would want others to communicate with you if you were in their shoes. If you manage to keep up a positive spirit in this difficult phase of an event, your event will be winning!

Be empathetic … When negotiating
There is nothing wrong with trying to get the most bang for your buck. But when negotiating terms of contracts with a location or contractor, we can easily lose sight of the important: Long-term relationships count. Point blank. And pushing people to the their limits will only give you short-lived success. Keep in mind that the industry strives on small businesses. And they are trying to survive. So when negotiating be firm, yet empathetic. Know your goal, and then put yourself in your contractors’ shoes and work to create a win-win situation. If you succeed, your client and contractors will be happy and join forces to create the perfect event.

Be empathetic … When time is of the essence
Working long hours can be a rough part of event prep for your team, your contractors, and yourself. Friends and family have to be put on the back burner. It’s part of working in the industry. However, some involved in preparing for your event might not have the liberty to do so due to family responsibilities. Plan for alternatives in these cases: hire additional outside help for the busiest days. And for those that are there through thick and thin, show your gratitude. Communicate that you understand their sacrifices, and show true appreciation. Remember to reward your team for their efforts, after the event is over. There are many ways to do this. Know your team and find the right option! Remember: What goes around comes around!

Sign encouraging practice of empathyBeing empathic is often confused with feeling sorry for a person, or not being able to say no. The examples above show that neither is true. Acting empathic rather involves communicating with others the way you would like to be talked to. And treating them the way you would like to be treated.

Let me close by saying that I believe empathy in event management should be practiced throughout. It is one of the skills that are best passed on by being a good example for others. So go out and introduce empathy in your daily work. Live it, and help others follow suit!

Please let me know what you think about empathy in event management. Do share with your network if you find this post interesting. Thanks!

- Mona

4 thoughts on “Empathy – A Place For It In Event Management?

  1. Michael Ng

    Empathy – One great thing I learn as well when i was working the events industry. Normally we will have a team dinner after a successful event done for the day. This is to appreciate the team who have put in the effort to manage an event. Thank you for sharing. I like the idea of empathy when things goes wrong. When things goes wrong in any phase of the event, because of stressful days of work, tiredness, we often forget to empathize and just explode it out. Great to learn something today.

  2. michellegallik

    I agree completely. Now that I am a 50 something with a huge bandwidth of experience, I’ve worked all sides of the event from vendor to client. The end goal should be a win-win situation where no one feels beat up, but happy even if compromising. The job is stressful enough, so let’s all be nice to each other. Thanks for the reminder tho ! we need to keep at it.


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