cognitive readiness emotional intelligence Mar 06, 2024

When Mario got to his desk he slammed his bag on the chair and bashed the spacebar to wake up his computer.

His boss, Dale, came over to see what was up. Mario explained the car accident, how the jerk sped up to cut him off, and how much yelling there was when they traded insurance info.

Dale began to get hot too. ‘That guy was a jerk, how could he just act that way when he caused the accident?’ On his way back to his office he snapped at another coworker who was trying to ask a question. The office was tense.

In the building across the street, a few floors higher up, Richard got to his desk, slammed his bag on the chair and bashed the spacebar to wake up his computer. His manager, Jeff, came over to see what was up. Richard explained the car accident, how the jerk sped up to not let him in, and how much yelling there was when they shared insurance info.

Jeff pulled Richard into a nearby conference room and shut the door. He let Richard shout a bit. As things cooled, Jeff asked if Richard needed a minute to call the insurance company and get things settled. Richard appreciated that, so Jeff left the conference room, closing the door on his way out.

A coworker caught Jeff leaving and had a question. Jeff answered it by showing them at their computer. The office was going about its business.

You may be surprised to learn that both managers, Dale and Jeff, showed empathy. Surprised because empathy is supposed to be that leadership superpower that every great leader posses. So how is Dale snapping at a coworker creating a tense office the same as Jeff allowing things to cool and not affect the rest of the office.

Well, other than the word empathy, nothing is the same.

Empathy is tricky. The common understanding is that empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. What does that actually mean? Can you really put yourself in another person’s shoes’? Could we ever really, truly understand where they are coming from? This form of empathy is called affective (or emotional) empathy.

Dale showed why this form of empathy isn’t preferred. He allowed himself to feel what Mario was feeling which led to negativity spreading from one coworker to the next. This can happen with positive emotions as well, and being overly positive can lead to missing important information or making poor decisions.

An alternate form of empathy is cognitive empathy where you recognize the emotions of others without necessarily feeling the emotions themselves. I like to say this is the act of patience. Psychologists prefer to use the term compassion, specifically rational compassion.

Jeff demonstrated this by showing patience for what Richard was going through, giving him time to vent (privately), and keeping his compassion high for the coworker with a question. Not an easy task, but doable.

Downsides to Emotional Empathy
Studies done by psychologist Tania Singer showed that empathic responses to the suffering of others (feeling with someone) are different from compassion (feeling concern for someone paired with a motivation to help). Whereas empathy is associated with negative emotions and can lead to burn-out if it turns into empathic distress, compassion comes with positive feelings of care and warmth and can boost resilience in the face of suffering. [69]

People typically feel empathy for people who are just like them; people who act, look, and sound just like they do. People typically feel empathy for folks they feel safe around. Empathy can appeal to narrow prejudices. It can interfere with judgment and lead to cruelty. Psychologist Paul Bloom believes empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society.

“Empathy is exhausting, unpleasant, difficult, and it makes you withdraw. Compassion is exhilarating, it’s energizing. It’s seen as a positive experience and it makes you approach, it makes you more likely to help.” - Paul Bloom [67]

Limiting empathy may be the most compassionate choice you can make.

Moving Forward
Are you able to be patient when listening to someone complain? When your partner is angry? When a co-worker is laying out all their excuses?

Can you have compassion for someone going through a difficult time? Someone who is different from you? Someone who is struggling with things you find easy?

Start being compassionate and patient, today.
- Begin accepting current circumstances as they are.
- Conscientiously slow yourself down in your thoughts.
- Build a tolerance for feeling uncomfortable.
Dale’s results may be a bit overblown. You might not see an entire office turn angry every time one coworker is upset. But, if you really think about it, you might agree that things can and do snowball quite often. Jeff’s results are obtainable. With practice and rehearsal you too can stay cool, calm, and collected for those around you.

The most amazing results will show themselves: resolving conflicts quickly and easily, lowering overall stress levels, and building better relationships with everyone in your life.

References: [67] [68] [69]

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