Psychopaths don’t express empathy. Business leaders are looking for ways to become more empathetic. Doctors and nurses are taking classes, writing poetry, and listening to their patients in order to develop an empathetic bedside manner. One article noted,
The current renewal of interest in empathy is closely connected to the recent neurobiological discovery of mirror neurons. Although the concept of empathy has been widely deployed, we shall focus upon one main psychological function it serves: enabling us to understand other peoples’ intentions.
1Value and Origin of Empathy
Describing empathy as part of a complex set of social skills, researchers are looking at a causal link between a feeling of empathy and the mirror neuron system, which helps us imagine what other people are thinking and feeling when they act in a certain way, make a certain face, or gesture with their body, according to a 2015 Neuroscience Research article.
Meanwhile nursing students who write poetry in medical classes revealed both their sense of empathy and how much they care about patients. Researchers noted,
Using course readings to identify a topic, students created and shared their poems in an online format. The poems and students’ reactions concur with existing literature that poetry writing and sharing reveals empathy and caring.
We all have desires for a better life for ourselves and our families. Sometimes those desires are not clearly stated or are hidden from those around us. In this study, researchers looked at what happens when someone expresses empathy for what we really want from life and show that they understand us on some level. It turns out we can grow and achieve our goals more easily when someone else responds positively as we talk about our goals. We want to be heard and understood.
Our results support Positive Empathy for enhancing client growth (i.e., when a client pursues approach goals, enlists strengths, and experiences positive emotions), which is consistent with the process of positive psychology-informed psychotherapy.
4Poetry and Empathy
More and more medical professors are including poetry in their educational programs. Reading, writing, and sharing poetry seems to increase not only empathy and improve bedside manner but also contributes to more creative problem solving. They put it this way,
Most often, poetry is put forward as having the potential to humanize medicine by promoting, for example, empathy, ethical sensitivity, and an appreciation for diverging interpretations. While these endpoints are all important, this essay uses the experience of a junior doctor undertaking a degree in creative writing to consider how the poetic way of seeing and thinking differs from clinical thinking, and why that might matter. In particular, the author considers the importance in medicine of the capacity to not know, as well as the possibilities for a deeper understanding of patients offered by thinking in terms of poetic voice.
5Recovering Empathy 101 for Business Leaders
Developing a retreat program based on his own experiences as a successful businessman, Joe D’Arrigo created, A Tuscan Sabbatical, which consists of
Week long retreats in the countryside outside Florence, Italy, designed to give business leaders tools to help them awaken, discover their passions, and find balance. The sabbaticals offer executives a chance to try yoga, meditation, music, art, and poetry. Joe’s website says, “Passion for life resides in the soul. Work is not who we are, it is what we do. Work is doing, the soul is being. In finding the soul, we can find the coexistence of serenity, passion, and illumination.”
So whether you are a medical doctor, a nurse, a business leader, or just want to get a better understanding of what other people are feeling, it is good to cultivate an empathy practice by listening, really listening to the stories and feelings of others, writing poetry or telling a story in a poetic way, and respond positively when a friend or colleague shares their hopes and dreams for a better future with you. Imagine for a moment that you are part of an improvisation group. What does empathy feel like, move like, act like? Personify empathy.