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The Importance of Empathy in Modern Organizations

As we continue to share the new Corporate Empathy Test—now live on my site—each week we will be publishing blog content that touches on the theoretical background of this new test and its outcomes. Below is the first of several posts to come over the course of the next few weeks.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), ranked by the Financial Times as a top global provider of executive education, [2] analyzed data from 6,731 managers from 38 countries. They have found that empathy is positively related to job performance and managers who showed more empathy toward direct reports were viewed as better performers in their job by their superiors.

Fortunately, individual empathy is not static and can be learned through coaching, training, or developmental opportunities if given enough time and support. [3]

In line with the majority of scientific research, individual empathy is defined as one’s drive to identify emotions and thoughts in others and to respond to these with an appropriate emotion. [4] Other close definitions suggest that empathy refers to the act of perceiving, understanding, experiencing, and responding to the emotional state and ideas of another person.[5]

Research supports three distinct dimensions of individual empathy [6]:

  • Cognitive empathy which involves an intellectual apprehension of another person’s thoughts and emotional states. [6][7] In other words, the ability to understand what another person might be thinking, feeling, or doing.
  • Affective empathy which involves an emotional reaction (e.g., compassion) to another person’s emotional response (e.g., sadness) [6][7] . In other words, the ability to respond with an appropriate emotion to the affective state of another person.
  • Behavioral empathy which involves a series of verbal and non-verbal behaviors that demonstrate affective and/or cognitive empathy. [6] These behaviors include mimicking of others’ facial expressions, gestures, language style, tone, or paraphrasing, asking questions about thoughts and feelings, and head nodding.

Therefore, when taken together these three dimensions define one’s individual empathy as the ability to understand another person’s internal states, share their feelings and thoughts, as if one is experiencing something similar, and to behave accordingly.

Stay tuned for the next blog post as we continue our discussion and explore the science of corporate empathy and, of course, be sure to take the test, here, to determine the empathy score of your company or employer today so you can formulate an action plan to improve it.

References

  • [1] Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, cognition and personality,
    9(3), 185-211.
  • [2] CCL Is Consistently Top-Ranked by the Financial Times
  • [3] Shapiro, J. (2002). How do physicians teach empathy in the primary care setting?. Academic
    medicine, 77(4), 323-328.
  • [4] Wakabayashi, A., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Goldenfeld, N., Delaney, J., Fine, D., … &
    Weil, L. (2006). Development of short forms of the Empathy Quotient (EQ-Short) and the Systemizing
    Quotient (SQ-Short). Personality and individual differences, 41(5), 929-940.
  • [5] Barker, R. L. (2003). The social work dictionary (5th ed.). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
  • [6] Clark, Malissa & Robertson, Melissa & Young, Stephen. (2018). “I feel your pain”: A critical review
    of organizational research on empathy. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 10.1002/job.2348.
  • [7] Davis, M. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: evidence for a multidimensional
    approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(1), 113–126

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