Dr Daniel Segal breaks empathy down into 5 areas, which may provide a point of reference to where you may sit on the scale.
At a 2017 Research Symposium, Dr. Dan Siegel spoke about five types of empathy. Dr. Siegel is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. He is also the Founding Co-Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.
- Cognitive empathy – Thinking of reason why others may be acting the way they do, what could be upsetting/scary etc.
- Perspective taking – Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, how you would feel if you went through what they have.
- Empathic concern/sympathy – I can feel your pain, and I want to do something about it. Also called showing “Compassion”.
- Emotional resonance – You feel happy because you see someone else is happy; or sad because someone else seems sad.
- Empathic joy – “I get so excited about your success!”. Essentially proud parent moments, that are also experienced by leaders when their team is doing well.
Looking at buyer behaviour, this order indicates the dominant type of empathy used in the decision-making process.
You may get the sale, however, empathic salespeople may pick up that the customer is not very happy with the purchase, so they themselves to be happy with the sale. This may be because the salesperson may have to work harder in the “post-purchase” phase of the buyer behaviour to get a repeat sale. It is less work to just find another customer than to keep an unhappy one.
If you are the type of person that needs to know “why” someone acts the way they do, then you would be starting at the first type of empathy and work your way through Dr Siegel’s list. Joy is still achieved if the person does what you suggest, but you may not go through the full range, even skipping the middle 3 altogether, but more likely to end up on emotional resonance. Someone else (an account manager for example) will look after the customer from there if they have a problem. Still a win, but without the joy it may feel like a hollow one.
However, as an example, if you skip the emotional resonance and the other doesn’t share your joy with the outcome, maybe you have asked the person you are trying to help to do something that goes against their values and beliefs.
Are you justifying doing it because that is just what you “have” to do, taking away other options the person you are trying to help are more comfortable with. This may be an indicator that success is more about your needs than the person you are trying to help. These actions may be seen by others as narcissistic abuse, and bring your own “why” into question.
If a person has a natural tendency towards Affective empathy, it is likely that another person’s “why” doesn’t matter as much. The helper may start with showing compassion (empathic concern), take action based on the reaction of the other person. The helper, in this case, does use cognitive empathy and perspective taking, however, this is generally done after the problem is resolved, and subconsciously returns when the helper see someone else in a similar situation.
The just do it mentality is another example of affective empathy at play. Some people get so much advice that they just can’t make a decision. Let’s call it “analysis paralysis”. You suddenly someone doing something, they look happy, and all you think is “I want to be happy like them”. Doing anything is better than nothing for people going through this; they just need the right call to action.
Empathy has more than just psychological effect on human, it is biological. It causes chemicals to be produced that can make you feel sad, anxious, in love, even addicted, and create new “neural pathways” that literally change the way you think.