Please see below selected recent empathy-related change.
- As we go through tough times, struggle with burnout or find it challenging to find happiness at work, empathy can be a powerful antidote and contribute to positive experiences for individuals and teams. A new study of 889 employees by Catalyst found empathy has some significant constructive effects. When people reported their leaders were empathetic, they were more likely to report they were able to be innovative—61% of employees compared to only 13% of employees with less empathetic leaders. 76% of people who experienced empathy from their leaders reported they were engaged compared with only 32% who experienced less empathy. 50% of people with empathetic leaders reported their workplace was inclusive, compared with only 17% of those with less empathetic leadership.
- Empathy seems to be inborn. In a study by Lund University, children as young as two demonstrated an appreciation that others hold different perspectives than their own. Research at the University of Virginia found when people saw their friends experiencing threats, they experienced activity in the same part of their brain which was affected when they were personally threatened. People felt for their friends and teammates as deeply as they felt for themselves. All of this makes empathy an important part of our human condition.
- The author of Empathy: A History explained in Psyche that while today we think about empathy as a way to understand another’s experience, when the English word ‘empathy’ first appeared in 1908 as a translation of the German Einfühlung, it denoted an aesthetic ability to appreciate objects and nature. If embodied aesthetic engagement comprised empathy’s principal definition in the early decades of the 20th century, by the time of the Second World War, this meaning faded. Empathy’s interpersonal meaning came to the fore, and empathy became almost exclusively a matter of grasping another’s experience. However, to do so accurately now required putting aside one’s own feelings and minimising one’s self in order to more clearly grasp another’s experience, which could be very different from one’s own.
- Quartz noted that empathy is a critical part of many people’s jobs. It’s the quality that allows a manager to give feedback in a way that’s both constructive and kind, or helps a teacher figure out the right way to connect with a shy student. But there is also a point at which empathy can tip over into excess. When we feel other people’s pain too deeply, we can wind up exhausted and overwhelmed. The technical term for this feeling is “empathy distress,” which is common among “people who absorb too much of other people’s negative emotions,” says Daniel Goleman, an author and psychologist whose work on emotional intelligence has greatly influenced the fields of business and education.
- Awareness and heightening of cognitive empathy (understanding) and emotional empathy (rapport/chemistry) can equip people with the ability to build stronger relationships, and ultimately drive more successful change programmes. Patti Sanchez explained this in her HBR article The Secret to Leading Organisational Change is Empathy,
- LEGO launched a playful interactive learning tool to teach children digital empathy skills. In a series of short videos, LEGO's Captain Safety presented situations a child is likely to come across, from seeing someone else being bullied, to witnessing gossip or even acting like a bully themselves. In each scenario, the viewer is presented with two ways they could act. It's a choose-your-own-adventure that shows how empathic behaviour can disarm the 'meanies'.
- Empathy, an orientation of spirit decidedly different from sympathy, has become central to our moral universe. We celebrate it as the hallmark of a noble spirit, a pillar of social justice, and the gateway to reaching our highest human potential — a centerpiece of our very humanity. And yet this conception of empathy is a little more than a century old and originated in art: It only entered the modern lexicon in the early twentieth century, when it was used to describe the imaginative act of projecting oneself into a work of art in an effort to understand why art moves us. notes Maria Popova. Mark Rothko would observe: “The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.” He was articulating the model of creative contagion — or what Leo Tolstoy called the “emotional infectiousness” of art.
- Concerns about inequality grew precipitously in 2020, posing a challenge for organisations and raising questions on how they should respond. How should they manage the narratives they use to shape their brands to respond to rapidly emerging polarities, asked Accenture, claiming that companies need a new approach that blends pragmatism with empathy, and that ensures they follow through on their intentions to do good.
- Robots can possibly show primitive "empathy". A robot from Columbia Engineering learned to predict a partner robot’s actions with just a few video frames.
- The coronavirus pandemic caused many people to enter a state of "forced empathy," Eve Fairbanks explained in The New Republic. This is why so many of us consent to wearing masks; we aren't necessarily protecting ourselves but protecting others from possible infection. It's forced empathy, and for many, it feels strangely rewarding to act on it. So how do we get better at having empathy for others and what does it actually help? Elizabeth Segal, PhD explained in Psychology Today that empathy is as beneficial for you as it is for the people you feel for. Segal believes empathy can: Help us make better decisions, connect us more deeply to others, lower stress, provide antidotes to burnout, and guide our moral compass.
- Finding a midway point between traditional capitalism and socialism, so-called "empathicalism" would focus on bridging concepts, regions and people. It would be about ending divisions and promoting collaboration, driving individuals towards a real sense of community. Empathic societies remind us that we are just a part of the whole, and that without the whole we are nothing. If we want to promote change in the world, there is no other way than to be empathetic with one other - as well as with our planet.
- Ashoka Foundation developed a downloadable toolkit to foster empathy skills in the classroom. Tool cards contain lesson plans and activities that can be used with many grade levels. Activities are organised into ways to prepare a safe space, engage kids in activities that lift empathy skills, and strengthen class members to take action on empathetic feelings. For instance, to create an "emotional intelligence charter".
- Empathy is increasingly seen as helpful to every aspect of business, from management and relationship building, negotiation and conflict resolution, sales and productivity, to customer loyalty. The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50 percent more earnings (defined by market capitalisation), noted The Empathy Business consultancy in Harvard Business Review.
- Research from the University of Melbourne also explored the potential benefits and limitations of empathy, finding that it is definitely good for business. Empathy offers broad benefits in business from a micro to macro level, says Professor Bove. It can boost sales, enhance customer satisfaction and perceptions of service quality, and increase consumer compliance. It also enables innovation.
- Studies published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly found that blaming sexual harassment victims is linked to empathy for male perpetrators. Some men are more likely to feel for the male harassers and blame the victim. This study has real world implications for reducing victim blame in cases of sexual harassment. Instead of encouraging men to increase their empathy toward women, the researchers suggest that we should instead be focused on reducing empathy for male perpetrators.
- Empathy is widely regarded as one of life's most important skills, but can it ever go too far? In his 2016 book Against Empathy, Canadian American psychologist and professor of psychology Dr. Paul Bloom makes the case for “rational compassion”, reminding us that empathy has a dark side. Of the possible definitions one could use, the definition Bloom uses here is “imagining the feelings of another and attempting to feel them too”. He argues that imagining someone else’s feelings is probably impossible and even if a person is successful in imagining the misery of another and reproducing it in himself we are only left with the multiplication of debilitating misery. Bloom asserts that reason is a better guide than empathy in most circumstances.
- While some people naturally exude empathy, others struggle to relate to their colleagues. The good news is that empathy is not a fixed trait: one can learn, develop, and implement empathy skills over time to get the most from a team. Empathy encourages collaboration, which in turn improves productivity.
- A Medium article argued that the frontier of "humanness" in the labour market - the care workers - along with the healthcare industry will need to re-evaluate empathy earlier than many other professions. Technology is already being implemented in a range of settings, from pill dispensers to companions, and gentle assistants to elderly with limited mobility. Programmed to check in on patients, gaze warmly at them, and provide comfort through touch, these robots aim to substitute human presence, physical and mental. In an effort to robotise nursery homes, the concern is that human carers will become a premium, reserved for those who can pay for human empathy and touch, meaning that empathy as such may become commoditised, a commercial good with its own market.
- Harvard Business Review claimed that empathic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult moments such as layoffs. Still, despite their efforts, many leaders struggle to actually make caring part of their organisational culture. In fact, there’s often a rift between the culture executives want from the one they have.
- Some worry that there is a decline in empathy across society. For example, one study of American students published in Personality and Social Psychology Review revealed that levels of empathy in this demographic fell by 48% between 1979 and 2009. Possible causes of the growing empathy gap include increasing materialism, changing parenting methods and the digital echo chamber, in which people anchor themselves in close-knit groups of like-minded people.
- The School of Life noted that most machines of any degree of complexity are offered to us with an instruction manual - the assumption being that it will be so much easier to deal with the machine when we have taken some time systematically and patiently to learn how it operates. Yet one area where we tend not to have manuals to read is when it comes to other people and their functioning. This causes us immense troubles. We go into relationships without any real sense of where the other’s peculiarities will lie - and vice versa. We unwittingly proceed as if operating another person might be an intuitive skill we’ll pick up along the way. It can take a decade or more to work out the very basics.
- Aeon's primer on empathy, written by the author of Social Empathy: The Art of Understanding Others, found that:
- One of the leading psychology scholars on empathy, C Daniel Batson, pointed out that, although definitions of empathy vary, all share the view that empathy is a process through which we experience and understand the feelings of others, and that can move us to respond in considerate and concerned ways.
- Empathy helps people to share the experiences of other people and different groups. However, empathy as we now know it, thanks to breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience, is more complicated than a moment of feeling concern for someone. Empathy is a complex set of brain activities that come together to help people experience and interpret the actions, behaviours and emotions of other.
- Empathy is not imagining how you might feel in the place of another. It is imagining and trying to understand what the other person feels. The difference between thinking about yourself in another’s situation and thinking about the other person in that situation is simple but profound, requiring well-developed, differentiated mental abilities.
- Empathy can also be used to understand social situations and even political events. This is social empathy, using perspective-taking abilities to understand different groups and cultures. Social empathy adds a larger dimension to applying empathy. It requires that people understand in some basic way historical events and their consequences for others. It means trying to understand people we might not personally know, and experiences we have not had..
- Empathy is the tool to recognise and value others. In societies, collective empathy is the key to civilisation. Empathy gives people a roadmap to morality and positive social behaviour. It is a prerequisite to valuing and fighting for fairness and justice.
- Research has demonstrated that, neurologically, we are more likely to experience the feelings of another with whom we see similarities. If there is a strongly learned bias, as with racism, it can be even more difficult to experience the other’s feelings. Empathic bias means people are more likely to mirror those whom they see as similar.
- Nautilus noted how humans universally make Us/Them dichotomies along lines of race, ethnicity, gender, language group, religion, age, socioeconomic status, and so on. And it’s not a pretty picture. We do so with remarkable speed and neurobiological efficiency; have complex taxonomies and classifications of ways in which we denigrate Thems; do so with a versatility that ranges from the minutest of microaggression to bloodbaths of savagery; and regularly decide what is inferior about Them based on pure emotion, followed by primitive rationalisations that we mistake for rationality.
- As it is hard to know if people all feel things the same way, a study from a team of Finnish researchers mapped emotions to where most people feel them in their own bodies. It turns out that most of us feel our emotions in similar places. Some of the locations were unsurprising: hunger was felt in the stomach, thirst in the throat, reasoning and recollection in the head. But others were more surprising, even if they made sense intuitively. The positive emotions of gratefulness and togetherness and the negative emotions of guilt and despair all looked remarkably similar, with feelings mapped primarily in the heart, followed by the head and stomach. Mania and exhaustion, another two opposing emotions, were both felt all over the body.
- Further reading:
- In Living With Robots, science philosophers Paul Dumouchel and Luisa Damiano argue for a “radically embodied,” profoundly social nature of mind. “Social robotics,” they assert, offers an experimental opportunity to understand the dynamics of social interaction and to create autonomous “substitutes” – empathetic, cognitive artificial beings that aid and stand in for humans. In supporting their thesis, the authors contrast Eastern and Western popular conceptions of intelligent robots, disassemble prevailing philosophies of mind, explore potential mechanisms of “artificial empathy,” and examine the military and bureaucratic establishment’s motives in defining “moral machines”.
- Human empathy can’t - or won’t - keep up with tragedies like the tsunami in Indonesia, warned Quartz. “Compassion collapse” means that people often care more about the tragedies of individuals than of many people.
- The School of Life notes that here are powerful reasons why we equate making others happy with burdening them as little as possible, but this analysis is missing a key detail of human psychology: we like to be bothered. Not at all time and over all things, nor at the expense of our own critical needs, but fundamentally, we have a powerful urge to feel helpful. We need to be needed. All of us suffer from a fear of superfluity, which the requirements of others has a critical capacity to appease.
- Virtual reality won’t make you more empathetic, warned Quartz. The technology can help people sympathise, but doesn’t really give them the perspective of a different life.
- Buddhist roshi Joan Halifax works with people at the last stage of life (in hospice and on death row). She shared in a TED talk what she's learned about compassion in the face of death and dying, and a deep insight into the nature of empathy.
- A leading businesswoman believes a fundamental shift is coming in how we do business. We are on the cusp of change driven by a more female-centric set of working principles that consumers, as well as employees, are demanding. Characteristics like flexibility, intuition, empathy and resilience are powerful tools with which to create better businesses.
- Further watching:
- The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) warns that it is wrong to think that “empathy” (or other forms of thinking, feeling and remembering come to that), is localised in particular regions of the brain, or is the property of individual neurons. On the contrary, it is the product of complex networks and interconnections that form in the brain as we mature.
- Countering the received wisdom that empathy is always good, Yale psychologist and neuroscientist Paul Bloom argues in Against Empathy that empathy is something that can lead us down some very dubious moral pathways and is not to be trusted as a guide to how to conduct ourselves.
- Trendwatching pointed to a growing number of initiatives using virtual reality to foster empathy and understanding for everything from migraines to sexual harassment. The technology allows people to immerse themselves in situations they personally have never been in.
- We know that empathy is a deeply important quality, which enables us to see the world as it looks through other, normally very different, eyes. But we may be unsure quite how to achieve this prized perspective. We may think of it as the business of escaping our normal egoism, of leaving the self – and putting ourselves imaginatively into someone else’s experience. But, for The School of Life, the trick for empathy might be slightly different. It isn’t so much about transcending ourselves as it is about practising an unusual kind of introspection, which takes us into less familiar parts of our own minds.
- Can we escape the prison of our own feelings and desires and embrace the lives of others, discovering ourselves by learning about other people, and finding out how they live, think and look at the world? Roman Krznaric thinks so. In this RSA video, Krznaric discussed the "habits of highly empathetic people" and why they can positively effect business practices. He argues that empathy is at the heart of open communication, allowing for clarity and precision.
- Krznaric also identified George Orwell as an "empathy hero", praising his efforts to empathise with people who lived on the social margins.
- What is the best way to ease someone's pain and suffering? In this RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown argued that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.
- See also: Five experts on Empathy at TED and Halcyon's Empathy archive.
- According to Daniel Pink in a Whole New Mind, logical, linear "left-brain" thinking dominated the Industrial Age, but relationship-oriented "right-brain" thinking will shape the "Conceptual Age" and Pink believes that "symphonic thinking" will come of age.