by Doug Johnson at Blue Skunk
“Here are a few “myths of empathy”:
- Empathy is a value. Jonathan Aberman states that is a tool, like reading, writing or computer literacy, not a value. Sounds harsh, but empathy is not always used in positive ways. One can use empathy to manipulate!
- Empathy is a weakness – it’s is the same as being a pushover. Far from it. Those who have learned to understand the feelings, motivations and others actually have a tremendous advantage in any relationship. (Think about how knowing what buttons to push could make your brother or sister really angry!)
- Empathy comes in only one flavor. Yes there is the emotional, touchy-feely side of empathy, but there is also cognitive empathy. (Some would add compassionate empathy as well.)
- Empathy means sharing others values – not disagreeing with them. Not at all. One can understand another’s values, point-of view, and respect their conclusions, but not agree with them. You can be empathetic and try to persuade others to change their minds.
- Empathy is a natural attribute – you have it or you don’t. Many writers, including Art Costa in his Habits of Mind, combine empathy and listening as interdependent skills. If we can help people become better listeners, it follows that we can help people be more empathetic. There are many activities (another area I am still researching) designed to build empathic skills.
- Empathy should be an attribute of followers, rather than leaders. In “Habit 5 – Seek first to understand”- of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Highly effective people, especially leaders, actually listen – in order to lead more effectively.
- Empathy is only necessary when trying to understand what others are saying. If one wants to “sell” others on an idea, a project, or a value, one must understand that the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) criteria that has to be met to make the sale. And one has to understand other’s needs in order to offer a meaningful WIIFM argument. Pink in his book To Sell Is Human, calls this “perspective-taking” and is “an essential quality in moving others today.””
Wise counsel . . .