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Part 4: The case of Emotional Intelligence – “Empathy”

What is it?

While self-awareness and self-regulation are about the “I”, empathy is about the “We”.

In simple words, Empathy is the ability to be aware of what others think and feel and to deliver an appropriate response. Dr. Paul Ekman, a renowned clinical psychologist, distinguishes 3 types of empathy: Cognitive, Emotional and Compassionate.

Cognitive Empathy is about understanding what others are thinking and feeling, while staying detached from them. Leaders who show this ability can see others’ perspective and therefore be better motivators and negotiators. 

Watch-out: detachment may lead to adopt manipulative behaviors and to take advantage of people.

Emotional Empathy is about feeling connected to others and identify with their experience (pain, frustration, joy, excitement). Leaders with such ability will find it easier to connect with people at a deeper level and to build stronger work relationships.

Watch-out: leaders may involve themselves too much and lose a more neutral and rational view of things. They may even suffer burnout if the amount of emotions rises too high. 

Compassionate Empathy is about understanding what others are going through, feeling their pain AND having a genuine concern to find a solution. It is the combination of cognition, emotions and action. 

Compassionate leaders are able to calibrate cognition with emotions, detachment with involvement and indifference with caring. As Goleman explains, they have the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people, and have the skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions.


Why does it matter?

Empathy leads to effective communications. Effective communications are the foundation of any relationship. Businesses rely on good relationships to grow and expand. We live in a world that is everyday more global, diverse, multicultural and virtual. In this world, leaders who can tune into others and adjust their response will be more likely to close better deals, quickly move projects forwards and motivate teams. These leaders are key assets for any organization. 


The Tool

Think of Empathy as if it was a muscle; if you want big biceps you’ll need a good plan and train daily! Here are some practical steps to train your “empathy muscle”.

Change your mindset from “I” to “WE”:

  1. Put yourself aside and focus on the person in front of you. Try to understand them.Think of their point of view, who they are, what matters to them and why. 
  1. Care about the other person: in a meeting, what is his/her concern and how can you help with a solution that accommodates everybody’s interest. Day by day, show your interest for the person: how is life in the host/their own country, what is their background, what do they like/dislike, what do they aspire to, what about their family, what about their interests outside of work?

Sharpen the following skills:

  1. BE PRESENT: clear your mind from other issues or events. Set an intention to be there with the other person and to give him/her your undivided attention. No interruptions, no phone calls, no checking messages.
  2. STAY OPEN and RELAXED: leave space to the person to talk, do not interrupt, do not jump to conclusions, and do not provide solutions. It is not time for action yet! 
  3. LISTEN: listen with your ears, with your eyes and, most importantly, with your heart. Listen to what is said and to what is not said, to the tone of voice and to the body language. Try to “feel” the situation and follow your intuition. Is there something that the person is not telling me and that is important for me to know? 
  4. DEMONSTRATE YOUR INTEREST: ask questions with curiosity; mirror the emotions and body language of the other person; reflect back what you hear and paraphrase.
  5. INVOLVE OTHERS: you are interested in everybody’s opinion. Encourage even the quieter and less experienced individuals to voice their thoughts; nod, smile and thank them for sharing.
  6. RECOGNIZE OTHERS: when people work hard they need to know that YOU know. Praise and be specific about your praise: instead of saying “Thank you for your hard work”, you may say, “I really appreciate you going the extra mile to get XXX done!”

Practicing these skills will help you be perceived as more open, caring and accessible. It will also enhance your own experience, as it will help you see the same situation from many possible perspectives; this will have a positive impact on your ability to take good decisions!


 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Maya Angelou


Please send me stories of how you made “them” feel. 





 “What makes a leader”, D. Goleman (Harvard Business Review)

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