Communicate on the Same Wavelength



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What is Empathy in Business? A Simple Explanation from Manager to Manager

Do you know those people who confidently claim that they are “empathetic” and even more confidently assert that “they don’t need any help in relationships” because they handle them brilliantly? ๐Ÿค”

I encounter such people quite often.

However, it very quickly turns out that it takes a simple situation in business where they clash with someone who has a different perspective, and suddenly there’s a series of unconstructive reactions. The full spectrum. Starting from withdrawal and silence, through offense and actively bad-mouthing the other person’s behavior because “how can someone behave like that,” to misunderstood assertiveness.

It looks like a concert of incompetence. What happened? Where’s that empathy? ๐Ÿ˜•

The answer is simple. These people indeed have empathy, but only one part of it. Empathy has two components, and the second one is, in my opinion, more important. Especially in business. But let’s start from the beginning.

Components of Empathy

Component 1:

The first component of empathy is the “emotion sensor.” In short, thanks to this sensor, people feel the emotions of others. To be clear – everyone has this sensor. Without exception. What differs them is the sensitivity of this sensor. If we compare it to a microphone, some have a microphone that reacts to all sounds and transmits complete sound without distortion, while others have a microphone that barely reacts to the loudest noises. The sensor is similar. Some pick up subtle signals in the full spectrum, while others only notice that something is wrong when the issue escalates to an epic level.

This component is called affective empathy. It’s an innate trait. You can’t change it. It’s how your brain is wired, and that’s it. If you have a super-sensitive sensor, that’s how it will stay. If you only pick up the biggest tremors, unfortunately or fortunately – that’s how it will be. You can’t change it.

Now an important statement: this component is a trait, not a skill. A trait. Something unchangeable. Like height, eye color ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ๐Ÿ‘๏ธ, or intelligence. It is resistant to significant changes. You have it, or you don’t. Period.

Component 2:

The second component is cognitive empathy. Cognitive, meaning based on reason. ๐Ÿง  This is a plastic trait – it can be shaped, just like, for example, how much we know about empathy or mathematics. ๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ“Š Cognitive empathy works a bit like an amplifier and interpreter in one.

If you already have knowledge about how people function, the mechanics of their actions, what motivates them, and how to react to their behaviors constructively, two things happen:

The first is that you start to listen more carefully to the signals from your sensor. You know there are important pieces of information hidden there, so you try not to miss them. As a result, signals that would normally pass you by are now noticed. This is the amplifier.

The second is that once these signals reach you, you start to interpret them. Not with emotions, but with knowledge. You begin to approach relationships tactically and methodically. This is the interpreter.

Oh dear, doesn’t sound good? How can you approach relationships methodically? ๐Ÿค”

The difference is the same as between a hug and compassion, and real medical or psychological help. When things are bad and you have to choose, you will definitely choose the latter. You want results. It’s the same in business. You want results. That’s why knowledge in relationships is very important. Ok, now that we’ve addressed this engineering approach to relationships, we can move on.

Cognitive empathy allows you to understand why someone behaves the way they do. It enables you to activate appropriate strategies and consciously choose a course of action. Cognitive empathy is software. You can update it with data, you can reprogram it.

Now another important statement: cognitive empathy is a skill. Not a trait. You can change it throughout your life. Itโ€™s like writing new software on the same hardware.

As you can see, empathy has two components. Ideally, both are developed. This is the case of a good psychotherapist who feels and understands simultaneously. However, note that poor affective empathy is not an obstacle to being a good manager, but a lack of cognitive empathy is.

Why is Cognitive Empathy More Important?

Imagine a manager who has very high affective empathy. Great? Not really. If you place relationships above goals, often above your own interest, you are, for example, very susceptible to exploitation. People quickly learn that you are susceptible to emotions. Those more self-centered and egocentric will naturally start to exploit such a person. Why? Because their mind is great software but completely unprotected against attacks.

Now imagine the same manager who also has very high cognitive empathy. They know, understand, and can handle the downsides of their affective empathy and consciously choose appropriate reactions. They manage their natural talent. They use their potential, not just possess it.

Now imagine a manager who has high cognitive empathy but low affective empathy. They donโ€™t allow themselves to be exploited but may not notice threats, be perceived as cold, insensitive, and unfriendly. However, high cognitive empathy allows them to manage this. They consciously are much more attentive to other people’s emotions, control their natural automatic responses, and consciously use them as needed.

Let’s bring it home: conclusions.

This is not the place to describe why empathy is good and helps in business and life. That’s another topic. Now I want to draw your attention to something else.

Cognitive empathy is just as valuable for those whose sensors are very “insensitive” as it is for those who have exceptionally “sensitive” sensors. For the latter, it is more important for their well-being, and for the former, it is important for the well-being of the people they manage.

Cognitive empathy is not a trait. It is a skill. It can be developed. This is absolutely crucial. It means that training everyone who is open to acquiring new skills in this area (mandatory for managers and optional for specialists) can bring very tangible benefits to the organization.

A great sensor – which is what people commonly call (incorrectly) empathy – without the knowledge of how to constructively interpret the signals it sends is a huge potential, but without cognitive empathy, it is a wasted potential. ๐Ÿ’กโŒ

Thatโ€™s why it is necessary to develop cognitive empathy in people, because it is possible, because it is an important component of respect for diversity, because it is an absolutely essential component of a good manager, and finally: because it is a skill.

Therefore ย empatyzer ๐ŸŒŸ


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