The last couple days I have been spending time over in England with a friend and co-worker. I really enjoy these times as we sit and talk for long periods, often traveling from one area of the country to the other. In our recent talks he has been sharing about a book he is finding to be very good on empathy. Yesterday, we had a discussion about the topic with over a dozen other professionals in our field discussing what it really was, and its importance in the care field. In the book my friend is reading, the author says that key to empathy is recognizing and responding. In the course of our discussion others in the group had also read the same book.
When the words recognize and respond were placed on flip chart paper and the group was deep in its wonderful discussion it felt to me that something was missing. Though I completely agree that recognizing and responding are important to empathy, it occurred to me that without something more, these two things are also the same for a predator. Just like a care giver recognizes the emotions and circumstances of a person in their care and responds to help that person have a positive outcome, a person who preys on others will recognize a person’s situation and respond in way that benefits themselves.
In the Mandt System we say that empathy involves understanding emotions, perception checking and a genuine concern for others. Understanding emotions and perception checking can arguably be a part of the recognizing and responding formula of the book my friend is enjoying but without a genuine concern for others true empathy can not exist. When my response is about me I fall well short of empathy. When my response is with the genuine concern for the other person, sometimes in spite of myself, I am showing empathy.
Tim Geels – SVP Organizational Development