Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

Empathy, Goleman’s 4th Component for Emotional Intelligence in Business

from NYT Education Life (7th April 2015)

In the previous articles in this series, we have considered the first two of Goleman’s recommendations for applying elements of emotional intelligence in business and possibly in other contexts. Initially, I proposed that however worthy the frames and assumptions surrounding any recommendations might be, it is still useful to identify them and choose for yourself which, if any, fit for you. The following two articles discussed self awareness, and self management.

Today’s topic is called, Empathy

  1. Cognitive and emotional empathy: Because you understand other perspectives, you can put things in ways colleagues comprehend. And you welcome their questions, just to be sure. Cognitive empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication.
  2. Good listening: You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda”.,  Goleman 2015

Goleman has answered the question, “How would you know if you are demonstrating empathy?” As before, the demonstrable acts are too specific to use for learning to do it comfortably, but they provide a clear idea of how empathy is supposed to operate. This description is different from the way many people, including some coaches and therapists, understand empathy. In my opinion, Goleman’s frame is much more robust as it is predicated on observation, listening, information gathering, and external attention rather than interpretation of someone else’s behaviour.

The trap for new therapists is an understanding of empathy as ‘A Therapeutic Activity’ predicated on joining the client in their (unresourceful) experience so you can ‘share the pain’ and understand their predicament. This is not useful. If you join someone in their unresourceful state for more than 30 seconds without shaking it off cleanly and then returning to your own self, the chances are your state will become similarly limited. Then you will lose access to the resources you had in your working state. Now you have two people who cannot solve problems instead of one leading the other to a functional state.

“Joining the client in their (unresourceful) experience is not useful.”

Yet the skills for enabling the behaviour Goleman recommends are very similar, with important distinctions that ensure you stay resourceful and you only bring information back to your own state, not residue of other people’s states.

Consider three different points of view, or perceptual positions:

One position is me in my own skin, aware of myself, my values, my outcomes and intentions, my posture and breathing and how I am using my attention.

Another position is me as observer. In the observer position, I take my attention out of my skin, to somewhere I can observe an actor who looks like me in conversation with one or more other people. My brief is to gather information about the quality of the interaction between the parties and whether the actor who looks like me is engaging the attention of the other people. I notice if there is anything my actor could do differently to facilitate the outcome of the conversation.

From the observer position, I can move my attention to step into the shoes of the other person in the conversation. I match their posture, movement and breathing and after a few seconds, I begin to experience the conversation from their perspective. As soon as I have enough exposure to their take on the matter, I leave the other and return to the observer, with my information.

The observer is not engaged in the conversation, but is interested in each party’s take on it. The observer also acts as a way station or a metaphoric shower to remove all residue of the other person before returning to my own skin. In my own skin I only want myself and information I gathered when in the other positions. The only exception to this is when the other person has skills I want to experience for myself. Then I can take relevant elements of my experience in their shoes into my own position, but this is rare and requires special framing to preserve my integrity.

Use Your Imagination

The act of shifting perceptual positions uses the imagination. When I teach it, I do not expect students to be able to do it seamlessly in a live conversation until they have had some practice. There are exercises for learning the skills by replaying recent memories of conversations as if they were happening in real time. This way the skill is learned off line and can then be applied in real life without compromising the quality of your attention and without anyone else being the wiser.

It is important only to go to another person’s shoes via the observer. If you go straight from self to other, it is too easy to operate for an extended period partly from their position. If you do this you will probably become less resourceful and less clear about your own outcomes in the short term and you may experience burn out if you do it habitually. Many people think empathy is a self to other direct step. Goleman’s description, on the other hand, reflects the evidence you can experience only if you keep self and other cleanly separated by moving between them via the observer. The observer is valuable in its own right as a source of a different quality of information.

By Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer at INSPIRITIVE.

Daniel Goleman’s Four Components for Emotional Intelligence in Business Articles Series

  1. Goleman’s Four Components for Emotional Intelligence – Introduction
  2. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
  3. Self awareness and Emotional Intelligence
  4. Self Management and Emotional Intelligence; Three attributes
  5. Effective Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

(Note: If you would like to learn more about the New Code of NLP you can get a copy of our latest Kindle book, ‘AEGIS: Patterns for extending your reach in life, work & leisure’ by Jules Collingwood, NLP Trainer. For only $4.99 here).

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Learn more about NLP by reading our Ultimate Compendium of NLP

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