Empathy &
Emotional Intelligence

We know for a long time how important friends are.  We need friends and family for a happy life. To be loved and to have a deep relationship with other people is one of the most important needs humans have. How important relationships really are is impressively demonstrated by the neurosciences. Relationships are important for our well-being and our performance. In the past, managers wanted to lead at a distance, nowadays good relationships are of special importance. More than half of all employees in Germany’s companies complain about a lack of empathy and sympathy. That is why the neuroleadership concept includes training empathy and emotional intelligence. So that relationships are again shaped by trust and appreciation. 

"Finding people who feel for and with us is probably the greatest happiness on earth."

Carl Spitteler

The only important things in life are the traces of love that we leave behind when we leave.

Albert Schweizer

Emotional Intelligence

MRI (magnetic resonance tomography) measurements show that general intelligence differs from emotional intelligence. While intelligence is localized on the periphery of the cortex, emotional intelligence shows high activity in the medial area. A high IQ does not automatically lead to good relationships. We know a lot of managers who have difficulties with the creation of good relationships. The emotionally competent bosses build a high-performance culture in which it is fun to work.

Emotional intelligence needs awareness

In order to be able to deal well with the feelings of others, I must first be able to deal with my feelings. This is very difficult for most of the people. They prefer to put feelings aside. The motto “Feelings only disturb, we have to act rationally” applies. As a consequence, people ignore their anger, stress and aggression. Feelings are there, but there is no awareness of it. That leads to interesting situations. I remember an experience when a CEO with a red head and smoking ears came to his employees in a meeting. One of the employees said sympathetically “You are angry today!”. And the boss responded and yelled “I’m not angry!”. A clear case of low self-awareness.

Awareness is important because you need to know when you are stressed, angry or jealous! One can train noticing one’s own feelings. Just as one has been trained not to do it for years.

Daniel Goleman says that self-awareness is the first step to Emotional Intelligence. Then self-regulation and motivation will follow. The more I notice what makes me afraid and what stimulates and motivates me, the better I can control myself. I can prepare for critical situations and actively strive for good situations. I have an clear picture of what motivates me. And I use that. Only when I have found an awareness of my own feelings and self-control I can empathize with others and practice compassion.

You and I we are one. I can't hurt you without hurting myself.

Mahatma Gandhi

Empathy and social skills

This is how I learn social skills bit by bit. I notice what influences the other, but also how the company or the company’s workforce reacts to news or bad news. It becomes clear what I have to do to motivate employees and make them proud of the company. And that is a skill that we urgently need today.That seems logical. Only when I know myself can I see how the other person is feels. In other words, the better I know myself, the better I can walk in the other person’s shoes. Our mentalizing system and our mirror neuron system are critical for this ability. 

Have you ever seen someone eating a lemon and noticed your mouth tightening and drooling? This is a reaction of the mirror neuron system. We know exactly what is happening with the other person and it triggers a similar reaction in our head. The better I can do it, the more empathetic I can be. And then I adapt my reactions to the behavior of my counterpart. This is also called empathy.


"Love is sometimes the saddest thing, often the most beautiful, but always the most important thing in life."

Discussion of three angry friends arguing in a coffee shop

What if the relationships are not good? The most interesting experiments in this area were carried out by Prof. Liebermann. He researched how painful relationship problems differ from physical pain. To do this, he placed test persons in the magnetic resonance tomograph and showed them a film in which men threw balls at each other. One of the males was the subject’s representative, the avatar. Suddenly the other players stopped throwing the ball to the test person. He was expelled. And even though this was just a computer simulation, you could see a lot of activity in the pain center. In the same center that is also active when you break a leg or a finger, or when you sprain your arm. Whether you are lovesick or have broken a leg, the pain center is the same.

We can learn relationship too

We have a great need for relationships. That is a basic need. Everyone wants to have good relationships. But everyone learns in the course of life what to do for good relationships and how a relationship should look like. And that’s very different for everyone. Some believe that good relationships are created by doing everything together. Other people think, that one should take care of the other and again another believes that relationships are based on the assumption that you are able to dictate behavioral styles to the other. And because everyone has their own ideas, relationships are often so difficult. Many people isolate themselves, are distant and try to avoid emotions and relationships, especially at work. We call People emotionally intelligent if they can form solid and stable relationships, if they are empathic and can empathize with others, no matter how big the differences are. Daniel Goleman has shown that we need to have a high level of self-knowledge and awareness of our own emotions. Emotional intelligence includes an awareness of one’s own emotions, the emotions and feelings of other people and how to deal with them constructively.