Does Power Erode Empathy?
Can attaining a position of power actually interfere with the ability to empathize? Sadly, research says it does.
Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Lou Solomon, CEO of the consultancy Interact, says this happens, “slowly, and then suddenly…with bad mini-choices, made perhaps on an unconscious level.” The powerful often become preoccupied with self-interest; simultaneously, they lose ability to read emotions and to adapt behavior to other people. In fact, power can actually change how the brain functions, according to research from neuroscientist Sukhvinder Obhi.
The good news: All of this can be mitigated with self-awareness and self-management. We agree with Solomon, who recommends that those who want to avoid such counterproductive power traps remember to ask for feedback and be willing to risk vulnerability. Invite others to share the spotlight when things go well and take your share of the blame when they don’t. In the end, generosity and humility will inspire loyalty, trust and enthusiasm in those around you.
We want to hear: Have you noticed a change in yourself or anyone else when promoted to a power position? How did you deal with it? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
6/9/2015 05:51:20 pm
Yes, it does. However, after taking your MLC workshop last October, having experienced the transformational power of group work, I think you have provided the solution: I believe that hierarchies can be massaged by using your Group Facilitation Skills circle work with members within various positions in the hierarchy communicating as you teach. Once people can empathize with one another, I am hopeful that the humanity that is often lost in bureaucracies can be resuscitated. This is certainly what I plan to advocate.
6/10/2015 03:05:31 am
Thank you for this, Ann. We are delighted that you see our group dynamics curriculum as transformational! We so agree with you that it is a way to bridge hierarchy.
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