Empathy (HBR Emotional Intelligence Series): A book review by Bob Morris

During a breakfast of ham and eggs, the chicken is involved but the pig is engaged.

HBR Press offers a series of anthologies (nine volumes thus far) of articles in which contributors share proven research that explains how our emotions impact our work lives, practical advice for managing difficult people and situations, and inspiring essays on what it means to tend to our emotional well-being at work. Uplifting and practical, these books describe the social skills that are critical for ambitious professionals to master. If you were to purchase reprints of the ten articles in this volume separately, the total cost would be $99.95. Amazon now sells the volume for only $13.38.

As the HBR editors of this volume observe, “Empathy is credited as a factor in improved relationships and even better product development. But while it’s easy to say ‘just put yourself in someone else’s shoes,’ the reality is that understanding the motivations and emotions of others often proves elusive.

“This book helps you understand what empathy is, why it’s important, how to surmount the hurdles that make you less empathetic — and when too much empathy is just too much.”

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From “What Is Empathy?” by Daniel Goleman

The word “attention” comes from the Latin attendere, meaning “to reach forward.” This is a perfect definition of focus on others, which is the foundation of empathy and of an ability to build social relationships — the second and third pillars of emotional intelligence (the first is self-awareness).

Executives who can effectively focus on others are easy to recognize. They are the ones who find common ground, whose opinions carry the most weight, and with whom other people want to work. They emerge as natural leaders regardless of organizational or social rank.

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From “What Great Listeners Actually Do,” Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman

Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks. To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said but that they comprehended it well enough to want additional information. Good listening was consistently seen as a two-way dialogue, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.

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From “The Limits of Empathy,” Adam Waytz

Our mindsets can either intensify or lessen our susceptibility to empathy overload. For example, we exacerbate the zero-sum problem when we assume that our own interests and others are fundamentally opposed. (This often happens in deal making, when parties with different positions on an issue get stuck because they’re obsessed with the gap between them.) An adversarial mindset not only prevents us from understanding and responding to the othger party but makes us feel as though we’ve “lost” when we don’t get ouyr way. We can avoid burnout by seeking integrative solutions that serve both sides’ interests.

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Many people need to improve their emotional well-being, not only at work but in all other areas of life. To them and those who supervise them, I highly recommend the HBR Emotional Intelligence Series.


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