How does empathy affect a person?

Empathy: definition, test and improvement in professional and private life

Definition: emotional, mental (cognitive) and social empathy

Emotional empathy

The emotional empathy is also called emotional sensitivity designated. It makes it possible to feel the same as other people (compassion). In addition, there are characteristics such as emotional contagion (transmission of mood) and auxiliary impulses. Emotional empathy is almost "automatic" reaction on the feelings of others.

For example, many mothers can have up toeight different pitches theirs crying babies differentiate appropriately and recognize the respective need (instead of interpreting everything as hunger).

Consternation alone is not a reliable indicator of empathy. Emotional empathy makes it possible to put yourself in the shoes of other people. One speaks therefore of empathy.  

This is particularly important when it comes to trustworthy, well "functioning" interpersonal relationships to accomplish. Emotional empathy strengthens the cohesion.

Cognitive (mental) empathy

The most important characteristic of cognitive empathy is the ability to understand not only the feelings but also those Thoughts, intentions and motives to understand other people in order to their future Close behavior to be able to. This also includes the ability to correctly decipher indirect or non-verbal messages (body language).

For some people this is "Flair" very weak. This lack of empathy is what makes them "blind" for what they say to other people with their words or actionsdish up can.

They make life unnecessarily difficult for themselves. This strengthens the ability to reliably assess the consequences of one's own and others' decisions and feelingsSense of responsibilityand promotes successful forward planning.

Social empathy

Because of the group dynamics, teams and communities have completely different skills and characteristics than the sum of the individual members. A team can Services provide to those individual people at all unable would be. This results in the third sub-competence of empathy, the social empathy. It is particularly important for the following reasons:

In the today's professional world most of the work is done in teams or groups. Without having a "feel" for which (mostly unspoken) rules of the game such a system of interpersonal relationships "works" (group dynamics), one can neither understand, shape nor control it.

An example is the behavior of a soccer team, a workforce or a political organization. A team behaves fundamentally different from individual people. Daniel Goleman remarked: "Teams are cauldrons of bubbling emotions". 

A manager needs completely different skills if they have one Team, a teamor the whole Workforcemotivatewants (as if it were about individuals). A simple example is the behavior during a meeting, which is often after hidden rules is working.

Socially empathic managers find it easy to adapt spontaneously and intuitively "correctly" to people with extremely different character traits from different social classes, functions, age groups or cultures.

In the case of a company, a managing director must correctly assess how, for example, a decision will affect all hierarchical levels. He has to "see through" the entire system. In practice there are different names for this competence. Examples are:

  • have an eye for the big picture
  • Recognize patterns
  • imagine the consequences of a current measure in the next few years
  • recognize how power and influence are divided in a buying center
  • know which "strand" you have to pull in order to achieve an effect at the other end
  • have a sure feeling for the essentials in a confusing situation
  • decide in the event of risk and uncertainty
  • recognize who is in charge of a group
  • reliably identify the informal leader, etc.

Successful team leaders or trainers often have an intuitive “feel” for how they can promote team spirit. This "feeling" can be made "visible". See the test of teamwork skills, which can be used to explain the interplay of different tasks and roles in a team.

Proof of social empathy

With the empathy test presented here, it is possible to validly prove and measure the existence of social empathy using a sample of around 17,000 participants (see the quality criteria of the Giessen inventory of empathy below).

Social empathy correlates most strongly (r = 0.6) with leadership skills (transformational leadership) as practiced by managers with at least 5 years of experience as disciplinary superiors (emotional empathy = 0.3 and mental empathy = 0.5) .


Mental (cognitive) and social empathy are part of the "Theory of Mind". It is the ability to form a correct idea of ​​what other people or a group feel and think (expect, intend, mean, know, or want) and what they (most likely) do next, or how they will decide .

This correct explanation and prediction of behavior is so complex that, as Daniel Kahneman notes, one needs a sixth sense or intuition. It is "The mystery of knowing without knowing".

It takes many years to develop this ability. There are no patent remedies either. The test presented here is intended to provide an initial introduction.

Behaviour social systems follows a logic (dynamic) that goes through Rituals, Habits, Enemy and role models, valuesNorms, Beliefs, Routines, (unwritten) rules of the game and Ideologies influenced (in a dynamic socio-cultural environment).

Without social empathy one can neither understand nor shape this behavior.