Beyond Burning Man
Published in

Beyond Burning Man

5 Things to Know About Applied Empathy

Breakin‘ it down with author Michael Ventura.

Photo by Juan P. Zapata

The author of “Applied Empathy,” Michael Ventura, is a long-time Burner, friend and collaborator with Burning Man Project, and the subject of our recent interview about empathy and more. While we encourage you to read the whole piece, if you just want the TL;DR on what applied empathy is, here are five key takeaways plus a list of further resources.

💡 1. THERE ARE THREE TYPES OF EMPATHY
a) Affective or “Golden Rule” empathy: “I perceive so-and-so is sad. I’ve been sad before, when I’m sad I want to be consoled, so I console that person. Well, what if when they’re sad, they want to be left alone? This is the folly of affective empathy: we allow our bias to inform the behavior as opposed to understanding what they want.”

b) Somatic empathy: “This is about physically feeling the emotions of others — like spouses who have sympathy pains when their wife is pregnant, or nurses who have empathy burnout because they’re just feeling the folks in the room all the time.”

c) Cognitive empathy: “This is where applied empathy really begins. I think of it kind of like the Platinum Rule. This is: ‘Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.’ The only way you’re going to know that is through inquiry, through dialogue, through actually asking…Because if you’re guessing, you’re just doing the first kind of empathy.”

💪 2. EMPATHY IS LIKE A MUSCLE — SO FLEX!
You know what happens to muscles that don’t get used, right? They atrophy. Practice empathy daily by talking to new people and really getting to know the folks in your midst. Transition from the common “golden rule” empathy to the more empathic cognitive type.

❓3. ASK “WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE YOU?”
This question is a key arrow in Michael’s quiver of practicing applied empathy.

🛠 4. BUILD IT INTO WORKPLACE SYSTEMS
It’s important to understand the methodologies and behaviors needed to show up more emphatically for people, and then to design systems and tools to support that approach. For example, at Sub Rosa, Michael and team have an empathy score they assign during client postmortems.

📈 5. MEASURE ITS EFFECTS
Yes, empathy can be tracked! Sub Rosa follows the ‘knock-on effect’ of practicing empathy in recruitment and retention practices. After about six months, Michael says “the emergence of high-performing teams starts to really happen.” He likens it to “the no look pass effect” — “how at a certain point, our interaction and our relationship has become so entangled in a positive way, that I know your movements, I know your actions without having to see them. That is the practice of continual perspective taking and understanding where you come from, where your strengths and weaknesses might be, what you’re working on, and what you’re trying to develop more.”

📚 FUTURE READING
Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization” by Dave Logan

“Feck Perfuction: Dangerous Ideas on the Business of Life” by James Victore

“Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?” by Aaron Dignan

“Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion” by Paul Bloom

Burning Man is a global cultural movement rooted in the 10 Principles, with a vibrant network of events and communities in 37 countries around the world. Burning Man is actively influencing art, design, civic engagement, placemaking, and business, and Burning Man Project is the nonprofit organization that supports that ecosystem. Get the latest news from Burning Man Project in the Burning Man Journal, follow us on your social network of choice, and sign up for our email newsletter, The Jackrabbit Speaks.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store