The Power of Empathy

Teaching Hotel Management has been one of the most rewarding things I have done, and it has definitely turned in to a highlight of my career. Some of the courses I teach are clearly relevant: Front Office Operations, Sales and Marketing, Supervision, etc. However, it is difficult to capture my audience when the topic is called “Facilities Management”. It is the study of maintenance, the actual building, and the effort that goes in to make it secure, strong, and reliable. Yes, some of the chapters are tedious, heck, I taught an entire chapter on laundry machines, but there is definitely a lesson to be learned here. This lesson is not about the design of the building, or the plumbing and electricity, or about the mechanics behind the elevator. It has to do with the people responsible for making all of this happen.

Empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

Empathy is one of my favourite words when discussing hospitality, and I use it in every possible context. In order to be successful in this career, you MUST know your guests. You must anticipate their every move, and at the same time, understand what they are going through. You empathize with them every step of the way: when they have been traveling for 24 hours, when they have four crying toddlers, when they have lost their wallet….endless situations. It is an important step in the complaint resolution or guest management process, and it is certainly important when you are trying to develop yourself as a person. The reality is, you will not know what your guest needs or feels if you cannot put yourself in their shoes.

This lesson is also important when dealing with your colleagues and members of other departments within your workplace. Nothing grinds my gears more than hearing remarks that belittle the staff in housekeeping or maintenance. Communication is key when operating a hotel, and many times one department will ask the other to complete a task, however, we must never assume that our task is the only one on their plate. Beyond that, while we enjoy the luxury of standing behind a desk, or even sitting at one, there are departments that devote their entire eight-hour shift to running around and keeping the hotel operational.

Empathy extends far beyond just your coworkers and guests as well; it builds character and allows you to stop taking things personally. This ties in with other attributes such as self-esteem, and of course, self-love. If you do not love yourself, then anything anyone says to you will seem like a challenge and an upset person will successfully make you believe that you are to blame. In that moment the focus changes – the perpetrator is no longer important, you have somehow made this about you. Once you make yourself the focal point, your reaction shifts: your tone will be angrier, or you will retreat in to your shell, or you may lash out, or you may cry. All of these emotions coming from the singular belief – that you are the sole cause for their problem. This is where empathy steps in and saves you. It is that voice in the back of your head that says, “This person is clearly upset and is having a tough time handling the situation. How can I help?”

Being in the service industry presents endless opportunities to be empathetic. We deal with angry guests, managers, and coworkers all the time, and we must do all it takes to not let it affect us. Some call it “having thick skin”, others realize that there is a larger power at play. Once you accept this power and put it in action, you see the world a lot differently. Now you understand when your coworker is stressed out because of a personal matter, or your managers are trying to make budget, or when your guest is demanding a room before check-in time and you see a crying toddler in her arms. You no longer say “Why is this happening to ME“, and instead say “I’ve got you“. This power is useful for those on the other side of the table as well – once in play, you stop blaming your servers for the delay in food, you don’t huff and puff in a Tim Hortons line when the person ahead of you counts out their change, you don’t get angry at the Front Desk agent when he/she tells you that your room was flooded and you have now been relocated to a different hotel. In all these situations, who is really to blame?

Love yourself and those around you, and of course, don’t forget to breathe. xx

“Empathy” – Photo credit:


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