I’m not a big fan of limiting a decision to two sides. After doing some research, I believe that Empathy can be either a good or bad thing depending on the self-awareness and self-regulation of the person expressing it. In other words, the intrapersonal aspects of EQ – Awareness and Regulation – can provide the appropriate interpersonal use of Empathy. If I practice and grow my self-awareness, I am more likely to be aware of the emotions of others.
In our workshops, we practice “Noticing”. Suppose you have a team mate who is bad mouthing the company you are both in. Your first response might be to pick sides - agree or disagree. Using self-awareness, you can learn to notice how you’re feeling and make choices to listen, respond, own, delay or defend. Noticing allows you to step away from your default bias.
After noticing Awareness, self-regulation takes over. You can decide how to proceed with the conversation and relationship. This choice is very different than allowing negative emotions to blind your brain leaving you with only fight, flight and freeze behavior. So, the intrapersonal emotional capacities of self-awareness and self-regulation when used correctly provide a thermostat for spending the capacity of Empathy. Staying out of the Reptilian Brain is the secret to less biased Empathy. As Dr. Hamilton shares, Empathy can allow us to build strong relationships and connect with others. This is a core aspect of being a great leader. Still, we must be aware of the bias toward vengeance mentioned by Dr. Adam Smith.
A leader’s job is to help the people he or she serves to grow and become future leaders. The hardest thing to do for a leader is to let go of their own ego, including their belief in their own amazing ability to “DO”. It is very difficult to let others stumble and climb through the learning curve. Like me, there are times when you have said to yourself “by the time I explain this to someone else, I could have it done.” This is the bias that Dr. Adam Smith observes above. Our bias about our own competence can prevent us from allowing our employees the space to grow. If we do not notice our own emotional state (Awareness) and make healthy brain choices (Regulation), Empathy can easily be used for evil instead of good.
Again, Dr. Hamilton (see blog posts below):
Empathy moves us to consider the actions of others when we make decisions. In difficult times, I feel that it is crucial for making the best decisions. Empathy (and Compassion) might have been viewed as soft in the past, but having the courage to show Empathy and Compassion is the sign of strength. For me, it would be the sign of a leader.
In fact, in leadership terms, a leader is someone who can inspire others to help. Surely Empathy is crucial for this. It is crucial, I believe, in building strong relationships. I personally think that as our world becomes more and more interconnected, and cooperation and communication become more important than ever before, then Empathy is going to be the new currency for thriving.