Welcome to the More Than Sound Podcast. In this episode, Daniel Goleman talks with Anthony Gell about different kinds of empathy.
Anthony Gell- Daniel, you talk a lot about empathy in leadership and how important it is, and you bring up different types of empathy including cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, etc. Could you give insight as to how empathy is so central to leadership success?
Daniel Goleman- Empathy is one of the critical components of social intelligence and leadership abilities. But in the conversation I did with Paul Ekman, who is a world expert on empathy, in the Wired to Connect series, I realized there are 3 kinds of empathy. Each has strengths that are critical for effective leadership, but in different ways, and some of them have liabilities.
1st is cognitive empathy. That means I understand how you think about things. I can see from your perspective. That can be effective for giving performance feedback, or communication, because I know how to put it to you in a way you’ll be able to hear, that makes sense to you. That’s the upside. The downside, is the people who only have cognitive empathy and have twisted motivation, if you will, can use it to manipulate people. If you only care about yourself and you don’t care about the other person, you can use that to your advantage. You see that in narcissistic leaders, you see it in Machiavellian types. You see it in outright sociopaths. They use their understanding of the other person to manipulate them because they don’t have the second kind of empathy.
2nd kind of empathy is emotional empathy. “I feel with you.” If I don’t care how you feel then I don’t mind making you feel terribly. Or I don’t mind taking great advantage of you. But if I feel your distress it’s much harder for me to do that. Emotional empathy is also critical for leadership, for any job where you relate to people. Client management, sales management, teamwork. Because emotional empathy creates chemistry, creates the sense of being in report with other people, creates simpatico. And it’s in those moments when things go at their best. Top performing teams have this sense of harmony and emotional connection with each other, for example. So emotional empathy is absolutely critical. However, downside here, is that if you are the person in HR who has to go around and tell everybody that they’re fired, or you’re a nurse working in pediatric oncology and all day long you are with children who are in great pain, who are going to die, these are powerful situations emotionally and you pick up what others are feeling. If you can’t metabolize that, if you can’t manage it yourself it can lead to an emotional exhaustion which is prelude to burnout. And you feel “I’ve got to get out of this field, I can’t do this anymore.”
The counter to emotional empathy, and what allows you to use it effectively, is emotional self management skills, which is one of the 4 parts of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is self awareness, self management, empathy, and relationship skills. So the different components work together.
3rd type of empathy is empathic concern. This is the felt sense that when I see that you’re in trouble I spontaneously want to help you out. This actually is what makes leaders outstanding. These are the leaders who, for example, take the time to help people develop further strengths. Take the time to give feedback. They see that, and are concerned about, helping people get better, learn to do better. And that of course strengthens whole organization. It’s also what makes people outstanding organizational citizens. These are the people who aren’t just “me first and that’s all I care about,” but are good team players, willing to help out other people and so on. In a dark time economically, the leaders who will be most effective have all three capacities going at full strength.