Calzones & Empathy: The Psychology of Being Personal

Having empathy for others is integral to building personal relationships. But what does this look like in a business context, and furthermore, what is the true value it affords?
The psychology of being personal

On the Eastside of Providence, RI, nestled right in the thick of Brown University’s sprawling city campus, there is a slice of heaven known as Mike’s Calzones. Not-so-subtle plug: if any readers of this post find themselves in the area, I highly recommend visiting the shop and trying the buffalo chicken calzone. It’s the best. IMO. I grew up in Providence and ate at Mike’s once a week for years. 

But I’m not writing to rave about how mouthwatering the food is or speculate about Mike’s closely guarded secret family recipe, the one the other calzone shops in town have been after for years. No, I want to explore my non-culinary experience at Mike’s; the personal one. How every time I sat down in one of the blue leather booths I was made to feel at home.

The owner of the shop (Mike) knew my, and all of my friends’ names by heart. And every time I walked into the shop, he greeted me with a friendly, “Hey, Alex!” He knew my favorite (buffalo chicken calzone, dudes, I’m telling you) and would be making it before I ordered, and he knew that I went to the high school just down the street, and when I would be graduating. 

He took the time to get to know me and consequently I loved going to Mike’s. Not just because of the food, but because my relationship with him was personal. Oh yeah, and every once in awhile, he’d throw in a free soda.

I’ve since realized that the time he took to learn about who I was on a personal level was an investment he made in his business.

One that paid off handsomely in weekly calzones. That said, I believe that he cared—and still cares—about the individual wellbeing of the people that flow in and out of his doors not only because it makes for better business, but because he knows it makes them feel better, too. 

So what does this all mean, anyway? The Psychology of Being Personal? Mike’s? Calzones…?

Let me connect the dots. But first, a disclaimer. I’m no psychologist. To my memory, I don’t think I ever stepped foot inside the psychology building of my College. But, I’m fascinated by the evolutionary and psychological reasons for specific actions and behaviors. I love knowing why people do what they do. So, out of curiosity, I wanted to dig a little deeper into what the internal forces are that make one experience “personal” and others not. 

Sleuthing around on the internet (like any professional armchair psychologist would do) didn’t result in finding much information on what exactly it means to be personal in a psychological or biological sense. However, one word kept coming up over and over again in my numerous Google searches: Empathy.  

Empathy, put simply, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. The evolutionary origin of empathy is based on the communal living of our ancestors, where the mutual understanding of one another’s feelings forged and fortified the teamwork necessary for survival. 

Today we use empathy as a blanket term for all sorts of actions and emotions. When we sympathize with another’s pain, we have empathy. When we have the urge to assist someone in need, we have empathy. When we are genuinely interested in understanding another human (like Mike), we have empathy. Obviously, in current times, empathy isn’t an essential survival trait like it was at one point in our collective history (unfortunately, it seems like plenty of people get along fine without it) however using empathy still helps to build positive relationships that have positive effects on our lives. 

This is what I think I’ve uncovered:

Having empathy for others is integral to building a personal relationship.

To be personal one must always see the other as human: as someone with feelings, thoughts, opinions, a past, present & future. If you try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and learn about them, I guarantee you that you will have more meaningful moments and build stronger relationships. No framed, gilded Psychology diploma hanging in my imaginary study needed. 

Maybe this message is a bit obvious. Maybe it’s all just common sense. Though I spent some significant time reading up on the topic, in the end, the answer seems relatively straightforward. So then why is it that I’ve only had a hand full of interactions with people and businesses that even came close to the ones I had at Mike’s Calzones?

It might be that we all need a reminder to exercise empathy and strengthen our relationships in every realm of our lives, by listening, being curious, and seeing the world from the other’s perspective. Care about the people who are not just permanent fixtures in your world, but also about the ones who are just passing through.

Be like Mike.

Want to read more about what it means to be personal in business? Check out our other posts here!

Personal Experience in Account Based Execution

February 23, 2020
Team Alyce
Team Alyce