Archive for September, 2010

Empathy Styles and friendship – how does that work?

I caught Thought for the Day on the Today programme on Radio 4 last Friday. The speaker was talking about Cardinal Newman and his up-coming beatification on Sunday. The discussion was around the search for truth about which the Cardinal had written: “men must have chronic familiarity to understand each other for truth slowly sinks into the mind”. And while I didn’t get the complete sense of that immediately the phrase “chronic familiarity” seemed to strike a chord with me as it made me think of friendship.

Years ago when I used to give a seminar on Time Management we spoke about the value of friends and how easy it is to get busy and lose touch with those we love. I would ask the audience if they remembered about friends. I joked that friends were the people who knew all about us and still liked us (I don’t claim that that is original!) – they didn’t want to sell us anything nor did they want to marry us.

My own recollection is of Peter, my best friend until we went to different schools and somehow lost touch, even though we still only lived 200 yards from each other. He was the youngest of 7 boys so his mother was used to having kids in and out of the house all the time. I could have knocked on their door at any time and would be welcomed in and given a biscuit and orange squash without any reason being asked for.

So what now of friends? I literally thank God for all the people that know all about me and still like me. And as my thoughts turn to Empathy as we develop a new website, I’m wondering how many of our friends are actually very different from us in Empathy terms. In other words having very different temperaments from us and we still like them. How come we know and like these people and yet can so easily scorn the behaviour of others who may be similarly different? Could it be that in taking a moment longer (or maybe in some cases, several moments!) to get to know someone of a very different Empathy style they could eventually become a friend?

So perhaps looking to understand friendship through an understanding of Empathy is one of those life situations, like romantic love, where our Empathy style is not the most important element. Perhaps something else is going on which may have to do with understanding or love or helpfulness or maybe it’s just plain ‘chronic familiarity’. (And for me, I discovered a year ago where Peter is now living, or rather he found me, and although we haven’t met up yet, we will. But I know that we will have lost that ‘chronic familiarity’ that we had as 9 year olds.)

Please contact me for more information on Empathy Styles – I’m always happy to answer questions – or 0845 122 7117

Where are you headed?

I’ve done a bit of sailing over the last few years and I’m not very good at it. I know I’m not a natural sailor. But one thing I have realised is that when we see another vessel who’s going to cross our path, even though they may be miles away, we make sure that our boat makes a deliberate movement away from the other boat. We let the other boat know clearly what our intended course is so it can go its own way.

I’ve also noticed this in high streets with lots of people milling around. It’s actually quite difficult to change direction quickly particularly if you’ve got up a head of steam or if you’re pushing a pram and someone steps into your path. For smooth running we need to signal to people what we’re going to do. People need to know which way you’re going – what your intentions are.

And, of course, this isn’t just about the high seas or the high street. It’s about our businesses and our lives.

So I’m thinking about Empathy Styles – how does this work for the different styles? Politicians have no problem with this – they’ve made up their minds, set their course and off they go – and, by the way, they won’t be giving way! Normals are also good at direction setting though they’ll be more likely to change direction if it isn’t working, logically. Hustlers will take the route that best suits their purpose, and will be on the lookout for opportunities and bargains along the way. So if you’re shopping with one expect a sudden change of direction when a shiny new something is spotted in a window over there.

Movers are interesting – I don’t think direction and purpose are words that Movers really understand. They’re more interested in energy, relationships, fun and movement, no matter which direction it’s in – “let’s get going, now” might be their motto. Double-Checkers could take a leaf out of the Mover’s book and get going, even though, sometimes it’ll be in the wrong direction! After all if you want to turn a bus around it’s much less effort to get it started and then drive it around to face the other way, rather than picking it up and manhandling it.

That leaves us with Engineers and Artists. The Engineer will get going, once they’ve done the planning and the research. They may not be the quickest, but they will arrive – remember the tortoise and the hare – and the finished project will actually work! And finally, the Artist. The Artist can be a bit of a dreamer – “I’d love to write a book” or learn a musical instrument or paint. How many of us have heard that from our friends, family or even ourselves? And how difficult it can be to get started. Why? Maybe because it has to be perfect in their mind and it won’t be perfect because they can’t do it. Try arguing them out of that one! (I’ve just started to learn the alto sax after a lifetime of wanting to do it – it’s great and why didn’t I do it 20 or 30 years ago??)

So, whatever your Empathy Style is, my invitation is to make up your mind, set your direction, let others know quite clearly where you’re going, and then get going. And if your intentions are strong enough, just watch people move out of your way. In fact, notice how many people and the universe will help you to get to where you want to go.

Are you trapped by your Empathy Style?

I watched the film The Truman Show recently and it occurred to me that there were some parallels with Empathy Styles. In the film Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, the star of a TV show. But he doesn’t know that he’s on TV! Everyone in his life – friends, relatives and work colleagues – are actors, all playing a part in his life inside a huge studio which looks like the ‘real world’. Everywhere there are hidden cameras watching his life and broadcasting live to the world.

Eventually, in his 30’s, he realises that something is wrong and he finally manages to get out. There is a parallel to Empathy Styles here. In the same way that Truman is caught in the world that has been made up by the director of the TV show, we can get caught in our own Empathy style. We can tend to believe that that because we are strong, medium or weak in whatever styles we are, that is how we have to behave.

Actually we can behave in any way that we choose to. Often I notice other people being ‘effective’ by behaving in an appropriate way to get the result that they (and others) need at that moment. So, for example, for a while the Double-Checker becomes decisive, the Politician reveals their compassionate side and the Engineer realises that other people don’t need all the details of their project.

One way of looking at Empathy Styles is to believe that it is not ‘hard-wired’ into us and that we can change. You don’t need to be locked into your Empathy Styles – you can be who you want to be. So, if the way you typically do something is frustrating to you, or you believe you could be more effective, why not try out a different approach today and see what happens?