Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand what another person might be thinking or what thought process they might be adopting. It can be in relation to seeking to understand the other person because of activation of our emotional empathy systems or can function separately. It generally involves the engagement of our active imagination, to step outside of our perspective and to step into another’s.
For leaders it is key to understanding their employees, customers and stakeholders and to manage those relationships. For example, considering what challenges or obstacles a colleague or department might be facing or what goals they may be trying to achieve.
Our ability to put ourselves in others shoes whether in our professional or personal life is fundamental to our better understanding of individuals. It also significantly increases the sense of psychological safety and support within teams through people feeling better understood. The ability to think about a situation from someone else’s perspective and walk in their shoes, without pre-emptive negativity or resistance, is vital for effective collaboration, innovation, negotiation, and dispute management. It is the basis to communicating that you understand and can value other people’s opinion, with a similar value to your own. Furthermore it enables you to see people beneath possible preconceptions. This is critical for relationship building and for overall team dynamics.
Cognitive empathy is an essential ingredient in looking beneath relationship or labels in considering your customers world view as people, meeting their needs, and understanding the challenges they face. It therefore enhances your ability to to support clients in reaching their goals and ambitions.