Connection Unveiled

Have you ever wondered what increases positive emotions in personal relationships? (Lorenzo et al. 2018) Would it help if I gave you a hint? It was shown to decrease burnout in workers during the challenges of COVID (Parmar, 2021). Moreover, it also was shown to boost innovation, engagement, and retention in workers (Bower, 2021; Parmar, 2021)? Have you guessed what it is?

It’s empathy.

There are actually two distinct flavors of empathy: rational and emotional. Do you know them? Rational empathy is mentally understanding someone’s emotions, while emotional empathy is all about feeling those emotions right alongside them (Decety, 2010).

One would assume that showing empathy is a piece of cake, given how much value it brings to the table. Yet, brace yourself: in the whirlwind of today’s world, empathy isn’t exactly taking center stage as much as it should. Why? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons – think skyrocketing levels of mental illnesses (Shaw, 2021; Twenge 2008), a constant sense of threat, insufficient adult development to be able to see others perspectives, inability to tolerate our own and others’ feelings of vulnerability, sleep deprivation and a simple lack of will (i.e., people believe empathizing requires too much effort (Cameron et al., 2019).

I think some people confuse kindness for empathy. I believe kindness is more connection at a behavioral level (i.e., I’ll give you unasked for advice on how to fix your problem.). That certainly has an intent to be kind but it is not empathy. Empathy is that intricate tango of intellectual companionship and emotional connection (i.e., “I understand your struggle,” or “of course you feel frustrated”). Most importantly, judgment is the opposite of empathy which is why giving unasked for advice even if intended to be helpful can sometimes be so detrimental. It is often heard as judgmental criticism.

Additionally, I’ve encountered clients who confused empathy with apathy, assuming that being empathetic means not holding people accountable. I have a different perspective. Providing information regarding the quality of performance in order to influence the evolution of future approaches is a vital part of performance management and growth (Carless, 2018). I just think the feedback should be given in a skillful (empathic) way so that it can actually be heard.

Lastly, it is important to understand that empathy has been shown, at times, to lead to aggression towards those perceived as creating distress for others, which is obviously the wrong use of empathy (Buffone & Poulin, 2014).  So, like almost everything, empathy is complex. However, when used mindfully and humanely, it can provide wonderful connection, innovative collaborations, and positive impact to the bottom line.

See you soon when the pendulum swings to toughness-

~ Tim