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Why it’s worth the effort to learn to negotiate the empathy bridge

Empathy is undoubtedly an underestimated, but extremely important, business skill, forming one part of the emotional intelligence pathway. It is defined as the ability to make a connection with other people, to identify and understand their thoughts, emotions and ideas and to reflect that understanding with intention, care, and concern.

Savage Macbeth recognises the importance of Empathy when in negotiation with others; it is one of our three main tenets, along with Objectivity and Creativity.

In a study earlier this year (Van Bommel, T. (2021). The power of empathy in times of crisis and beyond. Catalyst.), the following findings on empathy were validated;

  • Empathy is a force for productivity, life-work integration, and positive work experiences

  • Empathy boosts productivity

  • Employees with empathic managers and leaders are more innovative and engaged in their work than are employees with less empathic managers and leaders

  • Women of colour experience less burnout when they have more empathic senior leaders

  • Empathic leaders respect employee life circumstances

  • Empathic leaders support both life and work needs

  • Empathic leaders foster inclusion

  • Senior leader empathy is linked to reduced intent to leave employment

In these 'VUCA' (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) times where conflict seems to spring from every direction; viruses, trade tariffs, raw materials, transport, jobs, fuel etc – the ability to communicate clearly, effectively and, yes, with empathy has never been so important.

Think of empathy as a 'bridge', on one side, we have our own isolated emotions, feelings and behaviours constructed and conditioned from our own past experiences of similar situations and/or theoretical knowledge. This side connects to our 'empathy bridge' where we can purposefully engage both sides' thoughts, feelings and actions – creating a shared perspective (with evolved emotions, feelings and behaviours) on the issues under discussion. This dynamic connects with the other side of the bridge, where we attempt to manage and influence others’ emotions, feelings and behaviours. The culmination of which is working on innovative problem solving and creating better win/win scenarios.

The next time you feel exasperated, infuriated or frustrated – visualise the bridge, take a step back (being careful not to fall off!) and try to think, feel and act out the conflict from the other party’s perspective – you may find you achieve an outcome which is better for everyone.

Sam Macbeth, 5th October 2021

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