Emotional Intelligence – Necessity of Empathy and Compassion

By Abhijnan Mukherjee (L&T MHPS)

“He is not beholden to any organization at all. He’s not in any business. He is not a party leader. He’s a citizen of the world at large. And this has freed him to tackle the largest problems we face…… He thinks in terms of generations and of what’s best for humanity as a whole. Because his vision is so expansive, he can take on the largest challenges, rather than small, narrowly defined ones” – says Mr Daniel Goleman, author and science journalist, about the Dalai Lama. Goleman talks extensively about the ideas of the Dalai Lama in his book ‘Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World’. He goes on to explain that today’s so-called world leaders lack vision as their focus is narrowed down to the results of immediate tomorrow, be it of their company or organization or political party.

Same applies for many of us, the future leaders in the business world. We do not talk to people beyond our regular circle. We have confined our ideas within a specific set of everyday issues which affect only us.

In contrast, the Dalai Lama at one hand meets the world’s tallest state leaders and business leaders and at the same time talks to the slum-dwellers of a third world country. His network of gathering information is so vast that he probably knows about all kinds of problems human beings may face and have solutions to every problem through his vast experience in social life world-wide.

In other words, the Dalai Lama stands out from the bunch of world visionaries due to his power of Compassion.

But what do we actually mean by compassion? Compassion is a special feeling that your mother feels for you. She understands you, cares for you and her heart bleeds when you are hurt. But can we have similar kind of feeling for our peers, followers, customers and other people with whom we interact in our daily life? Yes, it is not an easy task. But if we could, it would create an aura of positive energy and harmony around ourselves which would make our work easier and life happier. Then how to cultivate this special feeling of compassion if it does not come to us naturally?

Neuroscientists in world’s best universities are on the job and their findings show that incorporating mindfulness is the first step in this journey which can be cultivated through meditation. But only mindfulness may not necessarily change the inherent circuit of human brain to make a person compassionate. Research in Stanford University show that a special type of meditation process which originated from ancient religious practices may be required, practicing which you may cultivate an attitude of love. Kindness and concern toward people. It is a step by step process in which you first practice it for yourself, then for your near ones, then for people you just know, then for everyone. By this process your brain develops the characteristics which are responsible for compassion and when situation arises, it is more likely that you follow that way.

If we further drill down this theory, it will show that compassion is empathy plus something. That something is care or concern while empathy limits itself to ‘understanding’. Now, empathy is the second most important pillar of Emotional Intelligence. The first off-course is Self-awareness (about which we talked a little, although indirectly,in http://www.enlightenment.ind.in/2019/03/06/the-suv-the-thelawala/ in the last edition of the magazine ) and the third is the ability to build social relationships. All those are closely connected and one cannot be dissociated from another.

Empathy further can be divided into three distinct types-

  1. Cognitive Empathy – this is the ability to understand another person’s perspective, to know the reason behind another person’s actions.
  2. Emotional Empathy – the ability to understand what someone else feels. This allows us to feel fast without thinking deep. You need to understand your own feelings first to understand the feelings of others. Emotional empathy can be developed by paying attention to two things – a deliberate focus on your own echoes of someone else’s feelings and awareness of that person’s facial expression, voice intonations, etc. Interestingly scientists suggest that, if this feeling doesn’t come to you naturally, you may initially pretend to pay attention to others which will make you feel more engaged and gradually align you towards this trait. Notably, the key word here is ‘attention’ which comes from the Latin ‘attendere’ meaning ‘to reach toward’.
  3. Empathic Concern – the ability to understand what another person needs from you. It is the next step of Emotional Empathy. It will sound funny, but you would definitely want that your parents, spouse, doctor and most importantly your boss possess this feeling.

If you noticed well, the last chapter evolves around the word ‘understanding’. And this is enough to climb the first step. Let’s take example from our daily life. We all have meetings almost every day and mostly these are presumed to be boring and non-productive by us. We always try to make it shorter, more organized and thus more efficient. Still we never enjoy a meeting. We always see there are few known people who only talk in the meeting and try to dominate the show. There is no value of our ideas. You have to say yes to everything the so-called leader proposes, then only the meeting will be successful, otherwise not. We also see sudden hidden conflicts between groups or powerful individuals surfacing in a meeting. Sometimes such conflicts may have nothing to do with the topic or agenda of the meeting. Some people will always try to avoid the meeting and will be in a hurry to finish it up and agree to every point being discussed. Some people will shout, express anger, show disrespect and try to project someone else’s fault. These are some of the very common reasons behind low efficiency of corporate meetings.

But how do we fix it? If you are a leader, it is your responsibility to call the right people in the meeting, create specific agenda and be well prepared. These are very basic requirements. But if you really want the meeting to yield result, you need to employ empathy and compassion.

Then you will be able to read people, know the dynamics and bonding between groups and understand who is supporting whom and who is resisting. You will also understand the shifting of power from person to person, topic to topic inside the meeting room. It may seem that everyone can feel these things, but that is not true. Further, it is more dangerous to pretend that you know all these and you are smart enough to fabricate your response. Most people look like fools when they pretend.

Empathy will also help you understand how people are responding to you and you will be able to react properly in different situations. It will resist you from falling prey to your own ego and resist others from manipulating you. Empathy brings out your strong positive emotions and create an atmosphere of hope, optimism, togetherness and team work. At the same time, you must remember that as a leader your emotions are highly infectious and you need to manage your emotions and should never allow your negative feelings to come out. This self-management skill is very important to get people work together, take right decisions and get things done.

Compassion takes this to one step higher. It does two very important things. It increases our willingness to trust others and trust in turn improves efficiency. It also alienates fear and infuse safety. When fear of negative results evaporates, creativity comes to fill in and elevates productivity.

Lastly, try to take a leap from the feeling of ‘me first’ to ‘let’s all do well’. You will see things start changing. Remember, how small a change is, if it is for good, it is worth taking a chance. We may not be able (or may be, who knows!) to resolve the biggest challenges of this planet, but such small steps only will take us to the permanent solution of many problems. So, pay attention, try to understand and take care. The ultimate goal is to be happier, isn’t it!


  1. Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World by Daniel Goleman
  2. Harvard Business Review Press series on Emotional Intelligence

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