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20 Oct 2011

Cooperation vs. Self-interest (Pt 3): Empathy

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Cooperation vs. Self-interest

For many of us, we feel good when we help others. What we are even learning is that many of us, especially women, will tend to feel what others feel. Thus, we not only feel good about helping others, but we feel their happiness from our help.

In the July-August 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review Yochai Benkler’s cites in his article “The Unselfish Gene” the work of neurophysiologist, Giacomo Rizzolatti, who originally “found that our brains mirror not only pain and motor movements but pure emotions as well.”

It’s important to emphasize empathy as an emotion, not merely an understanding as I also indicated in the difference between emotional intelligence and intuition. It’s one thing to see someone smiling and know they are happy and quite another to feel they are happy because if someone can feel good about the happiness of another person, he is more likely to cooperate.

What Rizzolatti’s research, advanced by Tania Singer’s use of brain scans, indicates is that people can actually feel what others feel in the emotional areas of their brains not just the rational ones. Moreover, the intensity of empathy will vary by person with some not feeling much at all.

This has tremendous implications for leadership development because it shows the importance of sensitivity in team intelligence. Whereas Part II of this series dealt with context, this post implies a cooperative business culture is also a function of personalities: some people will just feel better about cooperating than others will. Thus, this implies that highly sensitive people, who also tend to be very empathetic, might be better leaders and employees in a cooperative environment.

Thus, cooperation is not only about creating the right environment but also about having the right personalities, personalities that are empathetic.



Series Navigation<< Cooperation vs. Self-interest (Pt 2): Context – The Great InfluencerCooperation vs. Self-interest (Pt 4): Intrinsic Rewards >>

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