Emotional Competence 5: Essential Empathy for Success

This article now moves on from the areas of Personal Emotional Competence which deal with ‘self’ that we dealt with in previous articles, to the second area which is Social Emotional Competence(1). This concerns ‘other people’ and our relationships with (and how we handle) individuals and groups. It should be pointed out at this juncture that the better your personal emotional competence is, the better your Social Emotional Competence will be. Goleman points this out in his book where he notes that they are “hierarchical” and “…build upon one another.” (1)

The first of the two areas of Social Emotional Competence is Empathy. To kick off, I want to make clear the distinction between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is the ability to accurately identify another person’s feelings and is a skill that comes more naturally to some than to others. However, it is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

To empathise is the ability to ‘feel-with’ a person, to experience their feeling as your own. If a person is happy or sad and we feel happy or sad we are empathising with them. Sympathy is to ‘feel-for’, another person. Usually, with sympathy, we say we “feel sorry for” that person without necessarily feeling the particular quality of their emotion. If feeling sympathy, we might for example say we, “feel sad that the other person is angry or confused” – so the emotion we feel is different from that which the other person is experiencing. Make sense?

In Goleman’s book(1), he lists five distinctions of empathy. I’ve listed and expanded on them here;

  • Understanding others: sensing others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns. The key distinction here is an ‘active interest’ in others concerns. There is a certain drive to action to help that comes from this competence. It spurs an active emotional response rather than the more passive involvement of sympathy.
  • Developing others. Sensing others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities. Here we see that drive to action in place, where encouragement and support are offered. The ability to effectively develop other people is an essential skill of leadership.
  • Service orientation. Anticipating recognising and meeting clients, friends, and customers’ needs. Again, the ability to accurately read another person’s emotions are critical.
  • Leveraging diversity. Cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people. Not just opportunities that gratify our needs but that contribute to something more than ourselves. Which brings us finally to;
  • Political awareness. Reading a group’s emotional currents and power relationships. This really is a critical skill of leadership.

An important point to remember is that all these attributes are essential in all contexts; work, family, friendships parenting and anywhere else that we interact with other people.

The second area Daniel Goleman sites in the area of Social Emotional Competence is Social Skills. And that will be the topic of my next article.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below or email me privately at alan@optimum-mind.com. If you want to develop your own or other’s leadership skills through coaching or training just drop me a line.

  1. ‘Working With Emotional Intelligence’ – Daniel Goleman

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