The Flip Side of Empathy - Hope 103.2

The Flip Side of Empathy

When empathy is at work, there are a few traps that can prevent us from actually caring about others properly.

By The Centre for Effective Living Thursday 12 Oct 2023RelationshipsReading Time: 2 minutes

Empathy is a big theme when we talk about mental health at work. We want empathy from our co-workers, our clients, our bosses, and our bosses’ bosses.

Paul Bloom, a psychologist at the University of Toronto challenges us to rethink empathy in Dr. Adam Grant’s podcast WorkLife. He explains three traps that prevent us from caring about others:

Trap 1: We tend to feel empathy for individuals, not groups

This is human in nature, but it can lead to inefficient and sometimes, unfair policies and choices. As one employee is given time off for his stress but that same privilege is not extended to all staff. It is easy to see the pain of one individual as compared to that of a larger group.

Trap 2: Empathy is biased

We tend to empathise with those similar to us – someone who looks like us, someone of the same race, or even someone with a similar job. When we make decisions based on empathy, we might direct our care only to those who are like us. It needs no explanation as to how this form of decision-making can lead to disastrous outcomes that are highly biased.

Trap 3: Empathy can drain us

We can get so overloaded when feeling another person’s pain, that we might end up trying to help ourselves feel better rather than caring for others.

It’s interesting to note that it is rarely compassion that drains us, rather it is empathic distress – feeling concern for someone but being unable to alleviate their pain.

What we need more than empathy

Dr. Grant says that we need compassion more than empathy. Compassion is taking action and responding in order to alleviate someone’s pain.

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Bloom calls it rational compassion – thinking rationally about how to do good, as opposed to emotionally feeling the pain of another.

Compassion seems to have become an organisational imperative, particularly after the pandemic and helps with retaining skilled and talented workers.

Ask yourself: are we fostering a compassionate workplace, where people feel cared for?

Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.

By: Monica Jacob 

Feature image: Canva Pro