Developing Empathy to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Developing Empathy to Increase Emotional Intelligence

The ability to understand why people behave the way they do is a critical component of emotional intelligence, and it is a skill that can be taught. To be successful, it helps if you can develop empathy towards the person or people whose behaviour you are trying to understand. The psychoanalyst Theodor Reik (a student of Sigmund Freud) defined empathy as a process involving four components:


  1. Identification - focusing one’s own attention to another and allowing oneself to become absorbed in contemplation of that person.
  2. Incorporation - making the other’s experience one’s own via internalizing the other.
  3. Reverberation - experiencing the other’s experience while attending to one’s own cognitive and affective associations to that experience.
  4. Detachment - moving back from the merged inner relationship to a position of separate identity, which permits a response to be made that reflects both understanding of others as well as separateness from them.

Steps 1 through 3 involve the ability to put your self in the shoes of the other while step 4 requires that you detach yourself from the situation so you can present a “rational” and “objective” response.

Without being able to do steps 1 to 3 you can’t accurately do step 4, and as my experience has born out, it is not so easy for people to do steps 1 to 3. That is, people have great difficulty putting themselves in the shoes of others.

So what can you do to develop this ability? There are a few techniques that can be used such as:

Emotional attribution tasks where participants are presented with short stories describing emotional situations and asked what the protagonists might feel in those situations;

Faux pas task where participants are read a story with the occurrence of a faux pas and asked if they detected the faux pas—that is, a socially awkward situation;

Being assigned to groups that differ in terms of perspective-taking instructions before watching videotape or listening to an emotionally laden story and then discussing their reactions.

These techniques put the focus on developing self-awareness and mental flexibility, so you can step outside your own immediate reactions and put yourself in the shoes of the other. Empathy then is a skill that can be learned and you can use it to enhance your emotional intelligence.

Posted in Business Management


Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Building Smarter Teams - Thomas Malone

Very interesting article on the latest research into group intelligence.......
"We had expected that the group intelligence would correlate with the average or maximum intelligence of individual group members. But we were surprised to find that the correlation was not very strong. In other words, just having a bunch of smart people in a group doesn't necessarily make a smart group"


Posted in Project Management


Creating a safe space for innovation

Understanding how your measures affect employee behaviour

Clayton M. Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. In the business consulting field he is a “rock star.” He is the author of best selling business books and consults on the subject to many global companies.

In his book “The Innovator’s DNA” Christensen prescribes what it takes to be more innovative and to be successful at innovation. Perhaps it is stating the obvious (as far as I am concerned but then again I do understand a little about human behaviour being a psychologist), but one of the keys to success is to create a space for innovation to occur.  What that means is that employees should be able to experiment and trial new ideas without fear of negative consequences if things don’t work out.

“Establishing an Innovation is everyone’s job philosophy requires creating a safe space for others to take on the status quo. Researchers call this psychological safety, in which team members willingly express opinions, take risks, run experiments, and acknowledge mistakes without punishment”.

Another key is to give people time to innovate, obvious once again since how will you be able to experiment with out the time to do so? But when you hear, as I did, employees told to increase their utilization rate to 95% (utilization rate is the percentage of billable time) the only time they have left is the time for toilet and lunch breaks. There is no space for innovation.

Many years ago I consulted to an organization that was serious about innovation. The senior management team created a budget code so that employees could allocate hours to innovation and reduced the utilisation rate down to 80% so that employees could allocate 20% of their work hours towards innovation.  The result was that innovation happened.

The Innovator’s DNA provides a great resource for anyone wanting to create an environment for innovation to flourish, but in order to do so stumbling blocks like the requirement for high utilization rates must be dealt with first.

Posted in Innovation


Singing together (breathing together) helps unite people

We have long taught people that one way of creating deep connections with others is to breathe at the same rate as the other person is breathing. Singing is a common way that this can be achieved either at church, a football match or listening to your favourite song. Now research conducted in Sweden shows that when people sing togehter, ie breathe together, their heart rate synchronises.


How to engage and create meaning

How to engage and create meaning

Last week I had the great experience of attending a three-day retreat run by some very capable and inspiring leaders. With a group of about 90 others in attendance we visited the site of what could arguably described as one of the key defining moments of Australian history – the rebellion at the Eureka stockade.  There were a number of causes for the rebellion, but the most significant was the tax regime (permits for mining) levied on the miners for the right to prospect for gold – and they had to pay the tax whether they found gold or not.  To cut a long story short the rebellion was led by an Irish man called Peter Lalor who mobilised the miners to resist police troops who were coming to evict them. In the melee that ensued about 20 miners and 9 police officers were killed. Thirteen of the miners including Peter Lalor were arrested and tried for treason, all were acquitted. Peter Lalor later went on to have a career in politics.

As mentioned above the retreat was run by some inspiring leaders who kept things interesting and well organised. They were year 3 and year 4 teachers and the 90 others were 9 and 10 year old children.  I was a parent helper.

One of the characteristics that these teachers have is the ability to create meaning for people. To use stories, in this case about historical events, to make the connection between everyday actions and the reason for those actions.  Children as you know always ask lots of questions, in business environments employees often have lots of questions but don’t ask them. The real art lies in the ability to engage your audience – this is a skill teachers have and it is a skill leaders need.


Increasing your chances of implementation success

or how to get people doing what they say they will

Increasing your chances of implementation success

successCreating detailed plans which force you visualise what you will be doing, when you will be doing it, who you will be doing it with; plus the addition of support processes such as public commitment that you will follow through and the knowledge that significant others are doing likewise will significantly increase the chance that you will follow through on those actions.

Research conducted in voting patterns in the USA show that the use of voting plans increased voter turnout by 9.1% compared to potential voters who had no voting plan but who were contacted via phone calls to encourage them to vote.

(Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do You Have a Voting Plan?: Implementation Intentions, Voter Turnout, and Organic Plan Making. Psychological Science, 21(2), 194-199.)

Our experience in the field of organisational development supports these findings. With the aid of a publicly displayed “leadership matrix plans” we found that employees of a large R&D organisation rated their managers higher on leadership in their annual employee engagement survey than the previous year and compared to divisions where managers did not use “leadership matrix plans”.   These plans clearly articulated the actions (behaviours) that “leaders” would exhibit, when they would do it and where they would do it. The plans were publicly displayed so all employees knew what behaviours they should expect to see, and managers were assisted via training and coaching to support them.

The plans clearly identified what leadership was and thus helped to create a leadership identity that the managers were required to live up to. As well, since all the managers of the division were required to undertake these actions their behaviours were in turn reinforced and supported via the social comparisons they were able to make with their peers.


Principles of Persuasion

Easy to understand principles of evidence based principles of how to influence others

Principles of Persuasion

Professor Robert Cialdini is a world renowned author and expert in the field of psychology and specifically the psychology of persuasion. In the following video he and his colleague present an easy to understand cartoon on the key principles of persuasion.

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