The Power of Empathy – the Good and the Bad

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Many have written about empathy, and most conclude that the ability to empathize is essential to inter-personal, professional and commercial success. But are there different facets of empathy? And can too much empathy be detrimental? Two types of empathy are “cognitive” and “emotional”. Emotional empathy is also known as “sympathy”. What’s the difference between them? I like to explain this by using an analogy of how we respond to watching a movie. Imagine a movie scene where a character is crying. If you shed a tear as well because you share the same feelings, you’re being emotionally empathetic, or sympathetic. If you don’t cry, but you fully understand and appreciate why the movie character is crying, then you’re […]

“But I’m not ready to lead!”

“I don’t know nearly as much as all those subject matter experts!” the competent project manager exclaimed further. “Don’t get me wrong” she said, “I’d love to take on a senior leadership role, but I can’t speak in their terms – the scientific and technological details – so why should they listen to me? They wouldn’t accept me as their leader, let alone respect me as their director.” “Hold on a minute” I interjected, “wasn’t your education in a scientific field?” “Yes.” she said hesitantly, seeming to reflect on her perceived inadequacy that was at the root of her reluctance to consider advancing her career. “But I only got a bachelors in microbiology – not really related to the sciences of product development, manufacturing and testing!” “Maybe not,” I said, implying only partial agreement. “But how many development and technology transfer projects have you managed so far?” “About forty” she said indifferently. “Anyway, I was […]