We are flooded with texts on how to survive the COVID crisis and how to ensure the survival of our company after the crisis is over. Smart people read about characteristics of managers/leaders of the new age, those who will be successful in the New Normal. After adding and subtracting, I have singled out six key skills that I consider important for overcoming the crisis (this and any other), and they are:
Interestingly, these are precisely the characteristics that adorn an empathetic leader (and person). Does this mean that those who have the ability to empathize have a better chance of success in a crisis? Not necessarily, but it is interesting that what makes us caring human beings is also considered what will make us successful as leaders in turbulent times. Let’s explore it a little bit…
Empathy – a term and scientific basis
The word “empathy” comes from ancient Greek from the words ἐμπάθεια (empateia) in which “ἐν” (en, eng. “in”) and “πάθος” (pathos, passion or suffering) can be literally translated as: “in suffering” or “in passion.” Empathy has been explored in recent decades by various sciences from psychology (developmental, social, psychopathology), through neuroscience and behavioral economics. Extensive genetic research conducted over the last 3 decades, such as the Human Genome Project, has come to an incredible conclusion, confirming that one gene (5-HTTLPR) determines a person’s level of sensitivity to other people’s emotions.
Also, today we know that, how it is to the people around us, could be more important to each of us than ever, because we all come from Adam and Eve, whatever our theological beliefs are. Namely, our oldest known female ancestor is the mitochondrial Eve (mt EVE), and our oldest known male ancestor (most recent common ancestor) is the Y-chromosomal Adam. Thus, geneticists have confirmed that mom of mom’s mom’s mom … and all the way to the end, yours, mine, and every living person’s mom on the planet has one and the same female genetic source. The same goes for dads.
I don’t believe that the Book of Genesis had such sources, but it is interesting to know how much and how long we have all been connected. Geneticists have also confirmed that I am 99.99% similar to you. Not only are the two of us so similar, but you are just as similar with every person on the planet, and all of our genetic differences are at the level of statistical error.
Not only are we connected by similarities in the double helix, but we are also neurologically coded to feel and experience the feelings and life (mis)fortunes of the beings around us. Somewhere around the time the Human Genome Project began, mirror neurons were confirmed in Parma, Italy in 1990, explaining our Pavlovian response (salivation) when someone pours mineral water into their glass, why newborns cry out loud in the maternity ward, why we cry when we watch movies (at least some of us), why we laugh light-heartedly and louder in a smiling company, and why we learn by observation, not just by experience. In our mind, by observing actions and feelings, the same electro and biochemical processes are activated just like we’re doing it ourselves.
We all tend to mirror each other in some shape, way, or form. Perhaps it is now clearer why it is important to choose who we spend time with, whose behavior we “absorb”, and what we watch and read. Psychologists have also concluded that we have a strong desire to benefit other people, the so-called prosocial motivation. We simply have an irresistible inner need to be with others and help them, some (much) more, some less. However, do we all react the same way to someone else’s suffering, or to someone else’s happiness, and why?
Before and after empathy
When we talk about empathy we usually have in mind the reaction of an individual to someone’s suffering. Depending on how actively we participate in the suffering of another, we can react to it with:
- PITY – This condition involves a feeling of sadness and discomfort due to the pain, defeat, suffering of another person and I describe it through the sentence: I feel sorry for your troubles.
- SYMPATHY – The situation here is a bit different, not only we feel sorry but we are also worried about the other person’s misfortune. In order to sympathize with someone, we do not necessarily need to go through what that person is going through. Illustrative sentence: I can only imagine how you are.
- EMPATHY – Not only do we feel sorry for and sympathize with another being, at this stage we suffer together with that person because we recognize his / her feelings and we suffer with him/her because we have been through something similar. “I know exactly how you are” – clearly describes this situation.
- PARTICIPATION or Creative Empathy – in the end, we come to a state and feelings as a reaction to someone else’s misfortune, which is an ideal and leads to altruism and heroism. At this stage, not only do we feel, but we consciously make an effort to actively participate by improving the situation. As my friend Dusan Gruicic says in his book “Kreativna Empatija” (Creative Empathy) – conscious and action are two key words of creative empathy. If I say: I know exactly how you are and I have an idea what we should do, I will clearly describe creative empathy.
🧠 Training: Try to imagine in your head the reaction of someone who pities, sympathizes, suffers and participates, in some specific troubles of another human being, to see how much more we can do in many situations. For example, for the purpose of practice, imagine a child in need of treatment, a dissatisfied client, or your own teenager. How do you usually react to their challenges and problems? Can you do better? Can you get more involved and how?
Most people stop at PITY; some worry because they SYMPATHIZE, and the least number of people share feelings and EMPATHIZE, and examples of those who PARTICIPATE in someone’s problem by actively improving the involuntary position of a dear (other) human being is a real rarity. Let’s take for example a dissatisfied client or even better a colleague who, for who knows how many times, did not receive a promotion or raise. We may feel sorry for him – the eternal junior officer. We can worry about him, in terms of whether he will be motivated to work (because we might not), whether he will reveal the companies’ secrets to the competition (and thus lose his freedom, not just a raise). Maybe we also were skipped a few times in that company or some else, maybe we still are, so we are able to share his feelings and suffer with him. Maybe it doesn’t help him at all, and maybe we can reach out to him – to feel, think, analyze, listen to what he has to say without judging him, and at the right time, the right way, give him the right advice, a suggestion on how to react or to overcome that unfortunate career stagnancy. But also, we may not feel anything and we may not react.
In that case, we would be ambivalent (we are neither happy nor sorry that he was not promoted); we might be apathetic (in a word – we really don’t care about him, we are not interested in him and his problem). We might even be in a state of alexithymia – a state of complete inability to identify other people’s and/or our own feelings. That can be very inconvenient.
Why it is good to be good [and empathetic]
We are all different. Whatever we are like, we have a good reason to be good to others. If we are selfless good people, the reason is clear and obvious. If we are selfish, again we have a good reason to be good and to take care of others, and to make everything better. First of all, because no matter how well we do in our small microcosmos, from one point we will not be better than that, and maybe it will become worse – not necessarily because of ourselves, but because in order for us to perform better (as much as it’s possible), others also must be(come) better.
To sell the same, everything could stay the same. In order to sell more or to sell better, more people should live better, feel better, and be able to do better and more. Whatever we are like – we have a reason to do good to others – for ourselves, for others, for ourselves and others. All the religions of the world emphasize this as the ultimate ethical principle. Moreover, 143 different religious leaders adopted the “Golden Rule” as a common principle at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1993.
Do good to others as you would like good to be done to you. – The golden rule.
At the following link, see in which philosophical disciplines and religions, and in what exact way, love for other people is set as an imperative for the existence of every human being.
Lack of empathy is associated with several worrying social phenomena such as intolerance, violence, and aggression. Also, disrespect for others in most people leads to cognitive dissonance – mental disharmony, an insidious internal rift in which we are torn between a strong inner need to be good to our neighbor, and not acting in accordance with that (conscious or subconscious) need. This condition leads to numerous mental ailments as well as psycho-somatic ones. For more details see one of my earlier texts on the subject. Lack of empathy or not reacting in accordance with that feeling, however, is most related to lack of self-awareness and so-called auto-creative empathy. If we are alone in an anxious situation, living in many different ways worse than we deserve and we can, working for people we despise, living with partners we don’t love – and we are neither aware nor taking any action to change that, we can do little for others.
Creative empathy is a conscious attempt to free another person from suffering and pain, which creates a basic precondition for that person to feel relief and happiness… but the emphasis is on awareness. – Dusan Gruicic, Creative Empathy
How to perform better by becoming a better person
To understand others, we must understand ourselves. To manage others, we must know how to manage ourselves. This is my definition of emotional intelligence EQ. We are emotionally intelligent if by understanding ourselves we understand others, and by successfully managing ourselves – our priorities, decisions, time, we can optimally manage other people’s time and activities. Self-awareness is not only at the root of emotional intelligence, but it is also a precondition of empathy and an indispensable condition (lat. conditio sine qua non – “without which it could not be”) of creative empathy.
How to know yourself, who you are, why you do what you do, why you don’t do something you should do; are you satisfied with what you are now; how you feel in different situations and why; why you say what you say, think what you think and decide what you decide – these are all questions without which there is no progress in work or in life. The “Mind your Mind” topic, which I deal with through lectures and workshops, addresses these questions, and great therapists like Ksenija and Dusan, whom I’ve been mentioning on this blog, can seriously help you from a professional point of view and from the aspect of spirituality.
If you think you are self-aware, that’s ok. As many as 95% of people think so. After serious in-depth analyzes, from that 95% who think they’re self-aware only 10 to 15% actually are. Why? We will write about that. An important and big topic. Very important. In short, we have dead angles. When we know ourselves (so) little, how can we understand and truly get to know other people? How can we make a good product or service thinking that we know what others think and what they need when we have no clue about ourselves.
Let’s go through certain skills that we can train in order to become better humans, thus more successful, and resilient.
Listen to others, but really. Not to hear what they are saying and while they are talking to think what you will answer them. Just listen as if you don’t need to say anything after listening. That’s what I call listening. When you listen like that, you will be able to see and notice small signs, messages between the lines, emotions, and hidden messages of the person. We have a shorter attention span and non-focused attention. Do you know how many of you have reached this part of the text at all? Usually, it’s about 10% of all of you. We have trouble holding attention to read or listen longer. We are shortened, narrowed and therefore we don’t pick up knowledge, we don’t listen and we don’t learn as much as we could. So, how to understand others or fix and improve something.
When we have honestly listened to the person, we are now pulling, literally stretching through our body and our being, to reach the other person to see things from his / her perspective. We play the role by imagining what that person feels like at that moment, and then we return to our place unharmed and undamaged. My recent text could inspire you to find more ways to stretch and understand others better.
Having seen, heard, and stretched to the perspective of another person, it is now important to do and say what is needed to make things better, and not that what we came for to the office of a depressed co-worker or a sad daughter. Flexibility is our ability to adapt topics and priorities to circumstances and to say the right things, but at the right time and in the right way – not when we want and how we want it. Many of us are not ready for this.
In order to take the right action to help another person, or even to understand them, we must be analytical – we must be able to change our perspective, to investigate the Root Cause of the problem, not only its shallow manifestation, and to ask what happened, why it happened and what to do now after it happened (The Reflective model).
Elasticity, flexibility, analytics, and even attention are all the result of curiosity. If we don’t want to immerse ourselves in something with joy, we will not immerse ourselves in a satisfying way. Curiosity allows us to ask the right and important questions, to change our assumptions (yup and this guy left her, it’s because she’s naive and stupid” or “yup, he’s dissatisfied [client] again because he’s grumpy and his life is boring”) and therefore to learn more about the person, the problem, the topic, the situation, the job, and the world.
Of course, most of us probably think we’re tolerant. Probably most of us are wrong, but that is not the point. In this context, we should see tolerance like this: when we witness the suffering of a dear human being which might be banal to us, and which we believe would never happen to us because we are not so “stupid”, “naive”, “careless”… as tolerant people, we should take seriously both the person and the situation in which they found themselves. No belittling, no ridicule, no insults. Can we do that? Can you do that? I practice every day to be able to do that, and I still can’t. But I’m working on it and I have something to hope for.
This whole text dealt with how to be good people “in suffering” of other people. But empathy means that we are together “in suffering” and “in passion” with others. What it means to be empathetic when someone is doing well, and how much everything in ourselves and around us, in life and in work, can make more sense, and also how to create, innovate and progress in that way… all this will be the topic of the following post on this subject. Until then, be well and stay good. Do good things, and do them well, so that you and everyone else are well. Doing good for other people is contagious, almost like a virus. Good. Now it’s better to move on :)
✻ How self-aware do you think you are and which of the qualities of a successful leader do you possess? Do you think it could be better? You can book a lecture, workshop, or combination on the topic of this text for yourself, your company, or an event you are organizing via the following link. The text is an excerpt from my group of products “Mind your mind”. How to see yourself and others more clearly, conclude more accurately and make better decisions – all this can be learned. Over a thousand people and hundreds of companies I have worked with so far, confirm that there is a way. Of course, only if you think you should. Think about it.