Empathy: the gentle way to get things done

June 4, 2009

Reaching outEmpathy is one of those qualities that is acknowledged as being important, but for which there is little training given. One reason probably is that empathy, like some other personality traits, one is born with it more than one can learn it. Yet, there are certain patterns that can be acquired and help people interact with their fellow men better.

What does make empathy so effective in interpersonal relationships?
Empathic people come over as more gentle and get their way more easily, because in the interaction, they take the other side’s point of view in the picture. This makes the other party more receptive to your arguments, as they have the feeling that the outcome is not a win-lose but a win-win situation. What empathy does is create a sense of mutual respect and mutual benefit. This is true as well in private life as at work.

How can someone learn to become more empathic?
This is not a simple process, as empathy is not a skill, but part of one’s personality. The starting point will always have to be the acknowledgement by the person that he/she needs to improve. To understand the impact they make by lacking empathy, they need to see how other people react to their behavior. A good way to do this is to have a video of how they interact with others. Another powerful way is to have them role-play with an instructor who will expose their behavior. Like many issues related to personality, nothing works as well as immediate feedback and correction. They also have to be able to ask themselves “what’s in it for the other party?”, as they soon will realize that they can achieve much more when their counterpart gets something out of the “deal”. Making a list of the needs and wants of both parties before going to a meeting or negotiation can be very useful, as at least the person has to put him/herself in their shoes.

How to deal with low-empathy people?
In my view, the best way is by using your empathy and figure out what their motives might be. It is also very important to be quite firm on what you want and to not give away anything without getting something in return. Assertiveness is also a powerful tool: tell them how they make you feel and what you think about that! However, the most powerful tool of them all is very likely to make them feel that they will lose more than gain by not changing. Low-empathy people do not like losing anything.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Happiness and IQ

May 11, 2009

Is there a correlation between happiness and intellectual capacity? I had to think about this lately, as I had posted a poll in the Mensa Yahoo! group of British Columbia.

bulbIn my life, I have heard this question often and I also heard all sorts of answers, varying from one extreme to the other. Yet, there seems to be a majority of people who seem to think that intelligence is an impediment for happiness.
After all, even in the Bible, we can find a similar idea. One of the beatitudes says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
Then, is it easier to be happy for the less bright ones? I will let everyone figure the answer that suit them, but here are my thoughts.

First, I would like to get back to the Mensa poll. For those who might know what Mensa is, Mensa is an organization that gathers people who are among the 2% highest IQ in the world; its purpose is quite noble, as it aims at using the members’ intelligence to improve the world we live in. I am quite glad that I passed the test, and moreover I have been a happy person for most of my life. After some time in that group and getting slightly annoyed by the pretentious and condescending attitude of some of the members, I decided just as a tease, but also out of curiosity, to post that poll, asking:

“Do you think that having a high IQ makes it:
A. Easier
B. More difficult
C. Indifferent for you to be happy?”


I was not surprised to see that a majority answered B to the question, although my poll certainly has no scientific value whatsoever. And that brought me to wonder what the advantage would be of being smart if its cost is not being happy.
Fortunately, there is no correlation between IQ and happiness. One is happy if one chooses to be so.

Only the ones who want to question everything and see the glass half empty all the time will not find peace, because there are plenty of reasons to find imperfections. Maybe, what makes some think that the simpler minds are more easily happy, is just the fact that they may spend less time trying to analyze every little detail and just enjoy thing for what they are.
However, this does not have to be limited to simple minds. People with high IQ can just do the same, all it takes is the right mind set. Even if you analyze things, that does not hinder you from seeing the good and the beautiful when it comes under your eyes.
I came to the conclusion that the unhappy “brains” probably just suffer from negativity and maybe of a lack of self-esteem, that brings them to focus more on the negatives than on the positives.

How sad is that, to have a great brain and use it in the wrong way? Well, who said that intelligence and high IQ were the same?

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.

Can you save people from themselves?

May 11, 2009

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of personality. People tend to keep following certain patterns, even if it is clear to everyone else, and often to themselves, that their behaviour is playing against them.
ClearerJust as an example, I illustrate this with the warning on packs of cigarettes. You would think that the warning is crystal clear. Yet, it does not stop some from keeping on smoking, almost like it is a cure for cancer. They know it is quite unhealthy, but simply decide to ignore the warning.
However, I would not limit the description to just seriously addictive behaviors, because the “oops factor” covers many more areas.
For instance, there is the one who simply cannot keep his mouth shut when he should and end up saying something that will get him in trouble. Or the person in debt, who simply cannot resist buying more stuff with his credit card, while he should not. Or the daredevil doing silly stunts and ending up in the frequent patient program of the local hospital. We all know many similar examples of people not able to help themselves from getting in trouble.
So, what causes this? And how can we help others to break their patterns, thus bringing a positive change?
The cause very often lies in the inability of the individual to recognize the pattern he follows, and the consequences of it, or because the person thinks that it will all come out well in the end. This is very clear in the case of serious addictions such as drug abuse, alcoholism, smoking or gambling, but even the more mundane behavioral “masochism” we can find quite a few similarities with addictive urges. This lack of awareness, and sometimes denial of the problem, is quite difficult to tackle, because such a behavior is deeply rooted in the person’s unconscious. In most cases, this behavior is the result of habits that have been taken a long time ago without anyone acting by then to correct them. Over time, they have become part of the individual personality and considered “normal” by this person. Unless these people will come to the conclusion that they have a problem, they will not see any reason to act on it.
Just like with serious addictions, it will take a lot of patience and many hard facts to make the person realize what pattern he follows, and in some cases only a major shock such as an accident, a disease or the death of a close friend will be able to shake him enough to really decide to change.
It really is quite amazing how much easier it is to save someone from someone else, or from something, than it is to save them from themselves.

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.