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Can Business Travel Unlock the Keys to Empathy?

By / Apr 27, 2018 (franckreporter/E+/Getty Images Plus)

A recent survey from Hyatt finds that business travel can boost empathy for globe-hoppers—and those who leave the confines of home might find other benefits of hitting the road, too.

Having your members travel all over the country—or possibly, the world—to attend your events does more good than simply letting them check out a bunch of different convention centers.

It could be giving your attendees a better understanding of the world around them.

A recent study from the hotel chain Hyatt, which spoke to the positive benefits of business travel, found that more than three-quarters of those surveyed (77 percent) said they thought business travel made them more successful in communicating with different kinds of people, another 77 percent said that being on the road taught them skills that they could use later, and 68 percent said that they felt it made them more empathetic toward others. These numbers were particularly pronounced for business travelers in China and India.

The ability to gain empathy from business travel—a famously stress-inducing activity—suggests that there’s room to see the bright side of the experience. It’s also supported by other research done on the impact of travel—specifically, that traveling with children makes them more empathetic when they grow up.

In a recent Quartz piece recapping the survey, the site’s Lila MacLellan noted the results make “perfect sense,” even if American travelers are noted for playing it safe.

“Travel, for obvious reasons, breaks the illusion that one’s usual home is the center of the universe, or that the work you do will have the same effect in other places,” she wrote.

Other research into the issue suggests that travel can have a major impact on our worldview. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that travel greatly affects our creativity, and a 2014 study in the Academy of Management Journal, which based its findings on the creativity ratings that creative directors received for their fashion collections, found that travel can be “a critical catalyst for creativity and innovation in their organizations.”

A 2016 Harvard Business Review piece, meanwhile, spoke to the way that travel can help us to more effectively handle curveballs by better understanding the world around us. As authors Andy Molinsky and Melissa Hahn explain:

On a short-term trip, you’re likely going to find yourself in a challenging or unanticipated situation or two. Perhaps you’re at a dinner meeting and encounter unfamiliar protocols in eating, gift-giving, or choosing the right place to sit. Or maybe you have to give a presentation and must quickly learn what to do—and not do—to fit in with the local communication style. It’s one thing to read about these differences in a book or an article, but something else entirely to navigate them in person and in real time.

Associations, by pushing members out of their comfort zones and into new experiences, have a real opportunity to help play up these positive benefits.

Your event can be more than just an opportunity to network; it can expose members to entirely new experiences—whether those experiences are in Shanghai or Cleveland.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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