I have the privilege of talking with top agents across the country every day.

These agents have the privilege of helping hundreds of people make very important life changing decisions. In the process of doing so, they earn themselves the right to a high quality of life, including income, work-life balance, intrinsic meaning, and freedom.

So what do they all have in common? What is the common denominator among top agents?

I’ll tell you in one word.


Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings.

Despite what most of us think and do, empathy is not about imagining how you would feel in the same situation.

It’s not easy to develop empathy. Our culture doesn’t teach us empathy; in fact, in many ways, it promotes the complete opposite. The never-ending march towards materialism and perceived social status doesn’t leave much room to focus on the deeper understanding of what it really means to be human.empathy

To truly feel empathy, you need to be able to see the world through the eyes of the other person – to walk in their shoes, to see through their lens, so to speak. To do this successfully, you must first be aware of your own worldview. You need to be familiar with both your conscious and unconscious biases, and you have to be willing and able to let go of what you think the world is all about. We call this personal awareness, and it’s the biggest step in every journey towards success.

For the agents I work with, empathy manifests itself in many different ways.

An agent who lists more than 80 homes per year describes it like this: “All I do in my listing presentation is get to know the people and what matters to them. Once I get that, it’s easy to earn their trust and get their commitment.”

A buyer’s agent who wins more than their share of multiple offers explains, “The psychology involved in this process is very complicated. The power imbalance feels terrible for the buyer, so I ask the buyers about it. I invite them to share their emotions throughout the process. Once they feel heard and understood, they are ready to move forward and get the home.”

A commercial agent working with some big hedge fund buyers says, “On one hand, it’s all numbers – but below that are people who are making big, risky decisions. When I acknowledge the person behind the suit, everything changes and we work together more collaboratively.”

Now for a little story time: I was at the Oakville board, getting ready for a CNE class. It was very early – I like to arrive very early when I present so I can get comfortable with the space. So, it was around 7:30 AM and I was milling around, setting up my presentation, putting the books out, and generally enjoying the peace and quiet.

A woman arrived and looked around. She was calm and had a notable presence. It’s hard to explain, exactly, but she brought a certain energy to the room amidst the calm. She asked, “What are you doing here?” in a friendly and curious tone. When I answered, she listened. Then she asked a few more questions about me and about the course. And again – she listened to my answers. “Good,” she said, “Teach them empathy! It’s missing in today’s Realtors®.” She turned to leave.

“Wait,” I said after her, “Who are you?” And Ruth Anne Winter introduced herself. Ruth Anne has been serving as a Realtor® for even longer than I have. Her track record in sales is only rivaled by her commitment to organized real estate and her passion for community service. She is an excellent example of balanced success. Her words about empathy that day stuck with me in an important way.

Definitions of Empathy

From The Oxford Dictionary: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

From Wikipedia: Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes.

It is often misunderstood as sympathy. It is far bigger and deeper than sympathy.