Excerpt From Relationships That Work: The Power Of Conscious Living
– By David B. Wolf
There is a distinction between thought empathy and feeling empathy, both of which are important in connecting with people and their experience. Research has found that women are slightly more empathic than men with regards to feeling empathy, grasping the emotion behind the words. With reference to thought empathy—apprehending the thoughts behind words—studies have indicated no significant gender difference. An interesting aspect of this research is that after training in empathy, gender differences for both emotion empathy and thought empathy disappear. This indicates that men are not inherently less empathic than women. The lower degree of feeling empathy in
men may be primarily determined by culture, meaning that showing empathy does not correspond with the image that a man wants to project, and thus men are less motivated to be empathetic. This cultural facet may be changing though, as there is increasing evidence—some of which is cited below—that effectiveness in traditionally male-oriented occupations is associated with high empathy.
Across many fields of endeavor, including those where we might not imagine that listening and relationship skills are preeminent, empathy is understood to be an essential quality for success. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman quotes the head of a Swiss bank: “My job is something like a family priest or doctor. You can’t be in private banking without using your emotional intelligence, especially empathy. You have to sense what your client hopes for, fears—even if he can’t express it in words.” Empathy is the most important quality in the assessment of applicants to the Harvard Business School’s graduate program, and the top five attributes are all “soft” qualities, such as being a team player, and being able to effectively coach people and understand their perspective.
Research has shown that in a multitude of professions, including police work, financial consulting and sales, higher empathy correlates positively with better performance, results and satisfaction. A study at a large polyester fiber plant demonstrated that empathy was the quality that most differentiated the most productive teams of workers from others. In the field of medicine, greater empathy correlates positively with more accurate diagnoses, higher patient satisfaction and other desirable outcomes. In a study comparing physicians who were sued for malpractice with physicians who weren’t, the quality that most distinguished the group that did not get sued was empathy. The doctors who were not litigated against were not necessarily more skilled. They were more empathetic, which meant that if an apparent mistake did occur patients were less likely to file suit.
Empathy does not mean sentimentally acceding to the demands of others. Knowing how the other person feels and being able to show it does not mean agreeing with them. I can understand and be open to another perspective, while standing for my own viewpoint. This quality of empathy and the skill to express it underlies
effectiveness across practically all life dimensions.