Whatever happened to the old tradition of parents teaching their children to say “please” and “thank you?” The first amendment of our U.S. Constitution has been taking a beating in societal conversation with the open attitude that it’s okay to say anything any time to or about anybody who is different. But there is an element in our childhood lessons of courtesy that continues to drive companies to excel in competition.

Innovative companies quickly learn that people are sensitive to first impressions, so that attracting customers demands courtesy and politeness as first impression. Just about every year, articles appeared in business magazines showcasing “best companies to work for” like the renown Google, Microsoft, Facebook… the list goes on. Fortune posted its 100 “best companies to work for” already for 2019. Starbucks is the epitome of excellent customer service.

Customer service is the first impression essential to a company’s success in attracting and retaining clients. From a neuroscience perspective, this is the connection that happens between people in conversation, something that began at the first moment of conscious human engagement, even possibly before birth. This engagement is the full-body experience of empathy, the palpable encounter of the heart with another human being.

Design Thinking’s ambition of creating the perfect product for a consumer begins with the human capacity of empathy: how to satisfy a client with adequate understanding and compassion.

It was Matthew (15:11) who quoted Christ as saying, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” When we enter conversation with another, we are speaking from the heart, once we get past the rituals of civility and convention. The heart is the metaphor of personal encounter.

Marshall Rosenberg(1) offers us four integrating factors that make empathetic conversation truly possible and productive, which he coins as nonviolent communication.

  • Consciousness: a set of principles that support living a life of compassion, collaboration, courage, and authenticity
  • Language: understanding how words contribute to connection or distance
  • Communication: knowing how to ask for what we want, how to hear others even in disagreement, and how to move toward solutions that work for all
  • Means of influence: sharing “power with others” rather than using “power over others”

John Henry Newman(2) referenced empathy as the art of being a gentleman, which supports our ability to stay connected with others through mutual empathetic relations that reciprocally benefits both speaker and listener. Newman defined a gentleman as, “he is one who never inflicts pain and is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.”

Design Thinking positions itself in this first impression stance of empathy as the openness of heartfelt awareness to the dignity and valuable needs of the customer to be served with compassion.

  1. Rosenberg, Ph. D., Marshall B, (2015). Nonviolent Communication, Language of Life, PuddleDancer Press, Encinitas, CA.
  2. Newman, John Henry, (1854). The Idea of a University, first published by Longmans, Green, and Co in 1852 and edited by Harry Oesman in 2015.