EI: Empathy

The case of Emotional Intelligence

– Empathy –


What is it?

While self-awareness and self-regulation are about the “I”, empathy is about the “We”.

In simple words, Empathy is the ability to be aware of what others think and feel and to deliver an appropriate response. Dr. Paul Ekman, a renowned clinical psychologist, distinguishes 3 types of empathy: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.


Cognitive Empathy is about understanding what others are thinking and feeling while staying detached from them. Leaders who show this ability can see others’ perspective and therefore be better motivators and negotiators.

Watch-out: detachment may lead to adopting manipulative behaviors and taking advantage of people.


Emotional Empathy is about feeling connected to others and identifying with their experience (pain, frustration, joy, excitement). Leaders with such ability will find it easier to connect with people at a deeper level and to build stronger work relationships.

Watch-out: leaders may involve themselves too much and lose a more neutral and rational view of things. They may even suffer burnout if the amount of emotion rises too high.

Compassionate Empathy is about understanding what others are going through, feeling their pain AND having a genuine concern to find a solution. It is the combination of cognition, emotions and action.


Compassionate leaders are able to calibrate cognition with emotions, detachment with involvement, and indifference with caring.


As Goleman explains, they have the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people, and have the skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions.


Why does it matter?

Empathy leads to effective communication. Effective communication is the foundation of any relationship. Organizations rely on good relationships to grow and expand.

In a world that is everyday more global, diverse, multicultural and virtual, leaders who can tune into others and adjust their response will be more likely to close better deals, quickly move projects forwards, and motivate teams.


Empathic leaders build trustworthy relationships

They are key assets for any global organization


The Tool

Think of Empathy as a muscle to train. If you want big biceps you’ll need to train daily! Here are some practical steps to train your “empathy muscle”.

Change your mindset from “I” to “WE”

  • Put yourself aside and focus on the person in front of you. Try to understand them. Think of their point of view, who they are, what matters to them and why.
  • Care about others’ opinion: in a meeting, listen to their ideas and concerns, and help find solutions that take into account different perspectives and interests.
  • Show interest for the person: how are they doing, what is their background and experience, what do they like/dislike, what do they aspire to do; what about their family, and their interests outside of work?


Sharpen these skills

  • BE PRESENT: clear your mind from other issues or events. Set an intention to be there with the other person and to give him/her your undivided attention. No interruptions, no phone calls, no checking messages.


  • STAY OPEN and RELAXED: leave space for the person to talk, do not interrupt, do not jump to conclusions, and do not provide solutions. It is not time for action yet!


  • LISTEN: listen with your ears, with your eyes and, most importantly, with your heart. Listen to what is said and to what is not said, to the tone of voice and to the body language. Try to “feel” the situation and follow your intuition. Is there something that the person is not telling me and that is important for me to know?


  • DEMONSTRATE YOUR INTEREST: ask questions with curiosity, mirror the emotions and body language of the other person, reflect back what you hear and paraphrase.


  • INVOLVE OTHERS: you are interested in everybody’s opinion. Encourage even the quieter and less experienced individuals to voice their thoughts; nod, smile and thank them for sharing.


  • RECOGNIZE OTHERS: when people work hard they need to know that YOU know. Praise them and mean it! Instead of saying “Thank you for your hard work”, you may say “I really appreciate you going the extra mile to get XXX done!”


Practicing these skills will make you a better global leader.


Ref: “What makes a leader”, D. Goleman ,Harvard Business Review

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