Do you have BrainWise Empathy?

February 27, 2020 7:29 am

Science provides a few different answers.  First, we have to keep in mind that empathy is multidimensional and ranges from unconscious mimicry to emotive resonating to cognitive mentalizing.  Every dimension of empathy is controlled by a different part of the brain and provides a different type of information.  We have to integrate data from all dimensions to arrive at an accurate perception of another person’s state of being.  Secondly, empathy is social – it requires a ‘sender’ (the person whose state we are trying to perceive) and a perceiver.  Of course, perception is only half of the equation.

BrainWise empathy means we must accurately perceive and wisely respond to the other person’s state of being.

The accuracy of the perception and wisdom of the response are impacted by the ability and motivation of both the ‘sender’ and the ‘perceiver’.  Imagine dealing with a person who is unskilled or uncomfortable expressing themselves.  It is as though the ‘volume’ is turned down and it is harder to empathise.  The volume can also be too high.  In that case, you can become overwhelmed with their situation.

Accurate perception requires that we be able to toggle our sensitivity up and down depending on the ‘volume’.  It is possible to learn skills and implement strategies to help us regulate our sensitivity so that we are able to perceive the faint signals and not be ‘blown over’ by the loud signals – but it does take practice. Likewise, BrainWise empathy requires consciously considering the best response. This takes more brainpower, effort and skill than simply reacting out of habit or just doing something to make the person feel better in the immediate term.

We help leaders develop individual BrainWise Empathy through increasing self-awareness and building skills such as the ability to focus attention. We also help leaders learn how to shift away from habitual or unconsidered interpretations to taking a broader perspective and engaging in thoughtful analysis rather than simply reacting.  And we help build the capacity to respond purposefully, even in high-pressure situations.

Want to build your BrainWise Empathy?

A first step is to self-assess – reflect on the accuracy of your perception by asking yourself:

  • How well do I listen, does my mind wander when I am listening?
  • Am I fully present?
  • Do I feel overwhelmed by others emotion?
  • Do I feel cynical and detached when listening to another person’s circumstance?

Also, reflect on how you respond.  Ask yourself:

  • Do I simply react based on either a habit or how I feel in the moment?
  • How do I integrate the information coming from the person with the short and long term needs of the individual?
  • How can I evaluate the effectiveness of my response?

It is also important to consider the impact of the organisational culture.  For example, we know that environments that are not psychologically safe make it hard for people to express themselves.  Science has also demonstrated that a sense of urgency, too much time pressure and even information overload contribute to reduced accuracy of perception and less effective responses.

What is your BrainWise Empathy quotient?

If you would like to discover your BrainWise Empathy quotient, build your capacity to empathise with diverse people or in high-pressure situations or if you are keen to cultivate an empathy mindset in your business, please connect with us.  We offer a range of science-based individual, team and organisation development programs that are designed to develop BrainWise Empathy, including public enrollment programs.

Register here for our upcoming public program ‘Leading Change’ on Wednesday, March 25.

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