February 7th, 2015
The Practice of Empathy
By Julian Powe, Forbes
A client of mine is totally fed up with his boss. He has recently undergone quite a difficult, uncomfortable operation – the second in a series. Since then, there have been several interactions with his boss. Not once has he been asked how he is; worse, the task heat is full-on with a series of late night conference calls, led by the boss who always requires my client’s attendance. Amazed by the complete lack of empathy shown by his boss, my client is fast losing trust in him.
Empathy is right at the core of trusted relationships. If someone is genuinely on our side, interested in what we are thinking and feeling, and intent on helping us out – then we feel safer with them, readier to talk about what is uncomfortable and challenging for us, and more prepared to give them our trust.
Simon Baron-Cohen takes us a long way in our understanding of empathy in his seminal recent work, ‘Zero Degrees of Empathy’ (Allen Lane 2011, and Penguin Books 2012). Arguing through his research that we all lie somewhere on the empathy spectrum (high to low), Baron-Cohen begins to define empathy in this way:
‘Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention, and instead adopt a double-minded focus of attention.’
For him, ‘single-minded’ focus of attention means we are thinking only about our own mind, our current thoughts or perceptions (High Self-orientation in Charlie Green’s Trust Equation). ‘Double – minded’ focus of attention means we are keeping in mind someone else’s mind, at the very same time (Low Self-orientation in Charlie’s Trust Equation). In other words, when empathy is switched off, we think only about our own interests. When empathy is switched on, we focus on other people’s interests too. . . . Read the full article in Forbes here!