CEE countries dominate the list of least empathetic countries in the latest Global study by researchers at the Michigan State University. Romania, Czech Republic, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Poland, Estonia & Lithuania are joined by Finland & Venezuela to complete the bottom 10 of 63 countries.

I am always extremely cautious of such studies and my compulsion for understanding resulted in my contacting the main author of the full study (found here Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology). What I discovered was a well thought out piece of research where the authors had recognized some of its limitations and therefore built-in methodologies to further check/validate their findings.

I think within the scope expressed by the authors the study is certainly indicative. The country empathy ranking is in fact, only an interesting and eye-catching, audience grabbing by-product of the research. But does empathy matter for business?

“Empathy is defined as the tendency to be psychologically in tune with others’ feelings and perspectives (Decety & Lamm, 2006)”. This implies an emotional and a cognitive element to empathy. There is an important distinction from sympathy; which is merely an expression of your own emotion in relation to someone else’s circumstance.

Surveys that ask about top issues faced in the workplace consistently identify People issues at the top of their list. Percentages vary by study, but issues related to the Human side of business often account for more than 70% of the most important issues. It’s easy to imagine that an ability to empathise might be a useful skill to have to combat some of these issues but isn’t this all a bit too touchy-feely for the workplace? Don’t we have anything more concrete?

Since 2001 Six Seconds (a global EQ network) has been asking organizations critical questions about the people-side of businesses. The global data collected was statistically evaluated to define a logical model that frames FIVE key drivers of organizational effectiveness: Trust, Motivation, Change, Teamwork and Execution.  You can find an explanation of the full model here but for the purposes of this article I want to focus on Trust.

TRUST is the fulcrum of the model. Both empirically and statistically, trust governs the efficacy of all organizational (and personal) relationships. Six Seconds define it as a feeling of confidence, faith and surety that engenders willingness to risk; and facilitates success in the other climatic factors.

So if it’s so fundamental to long-term business performance how do we get to trust? A quick search will result in many trust models for you to examine but my Go-to model is based on the Four C’s:

  • Commitment – following through consistently
  • Consistency – reacting in a somewhat predictable way
  • Competence – demonstrating ability to meet commitment
  • Caring – showing the other person matters

I would argue that without empathy that it is hard to care. After all, how do you genuinely show that someone else matters if you are not able to attune to their emotions and perspective?

So YES empathy does matter for business and within the context of Trust it forms a fundamental part of organizational success. In research conducted by Forum, organizations which put an emphasis on trust have some serious advantages including;

  • 16% greater profit margin
  • 18% greater productivity

Where does your organization score on empathy or trust? Where are you as a leader on the trust scale? You probably already have Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) in place; is one of them TRUST or empathy? Did you know they are measurable and can be improved through learning?

In summary this research indicates that CEE businesses are working within cultures with lower trait empathy. If it’s fundamental to organizational performance through its connection to trust, shouldn’t we be working harder to measure and improve it?

The tools are available and are already translated for some CEE languages. So come on CEE it is time to move empathy up the agenda. If you are a CEE Leader why not treat trust and empathy as a partner in your performance measurement systems! If you are an individual who wants more success then work on your empathy and trustworthiness.

If you want to measure where you are with regards to empathy or trust, need a partner for change, or just want to explore any of the article in more depth I would be glad to hear from you at ricky@eqcee.eu