Types of Empathy

Lesson 2: Topic 20 of 21

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Forbes distinguishes between emotional empathy and cognitive empathy. Both require a little self-awareness on your part. The two can be distinguished by reflecting a bit: 

  • Emotional empathy says, “If I were in their situation, I would feel ________”
  • Cognitive empathy asks, “What would be going through my head right now if I were dealing with what they’re dealing with?” 

Either focus works in bringing you to a closer understanding of the other person; practice the one that works best given your personality.

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How does this apply to the workplace? Our society is suffering from increasingly weaker social bonds, says John Scott at Zurich Insurance Group, citing a research paper which shows that globally, levels of empathy plummeted by almost half in the three decades between 1979-2009. Compared to our ancestors, people have fewer friends, feel more lonely, and are isolated from one another. Those with fewer social connections are more likely to be depressed, and take longer to heal from disease or injury. It is impossible for businesses to insulate themselves from this trend toward increasingly weak social capital. 

Just because all this is true does not mean you have to be a friend, counselor, or therapist to your employees. But you do have to help them get past those things so that they can be better performers. How?

Humans can endure a great deal of stress and suffering if they are confident that they personally matter and are valued, and the contributions they make are needed and wanted by others. This is true in families, in war and disaster situations, and in workplace settings.