Walter Wiese Founder and Owner of Walter Wiese Architektur Consulting. Image: Walter Wiese Architektur Consulting

Egomania versus project success

According to Wikipedia, empathy is “the capacity and willingness to recognize and understand the thoughts, emotions, motives and personality traits of another person. Empathy also includes the reaction to the emotions of other persons […]. The basis of empathy is the sense of self, the more open one is towards one’s own feelings, the better one can interpret the emotions of others.”

By Walter Wiese

Empathy is the basis for every low-conflict communication and case of successful cooperation. To quote Alfred Adler, founder of Individual Psychology: The secret of a good partnership is to empathize. Empathize. Empathize.

When two people meet, different motivations, aspects, approaches, precognitions, and experiences inevitably face each other. These differences can be source of a lot of conflicts and a high number of possible misunderstandings. This is all common knowledge and neither a surprise nor a new insight. Knowing this, what are the reasons for problems in communication, conflicts, and the resultant failure of projects?

Perhaps the reasons can be found here: cooperation is often pursued not out of empathy but egotism (sometimes to the extreme): What are MY targets, what approaches do I have, how do I benefit? Sensitivity to the motivations of the person on the other side is non-existent.

Is my interlocutor able to agree to my suggestion at all? What is the motivation for his behavior? What constraints limits him? The solution to such a conflict is self-evident and can be described figuratively: Common phrases like “to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” or to “see the world through their eyes” describe perfectly how confrontations can be diminished.

Starting with the sense of self mentioned above, this approach leads not just to an understanding of the other’s motives, but also to better understanding overall. Thinking about the questions “Is my negotiating partner able to accept my requirements?” or “Why is his negotiating position so fixed?” can help one to react properly and avoid or even solve conflicts.

Back to Wikipedia’s definition from the beginning, we are reminded that empathy is simply the ability and willingness to put oneself in someone else’s position. Without it, extreme egotism can become an insuperable obstacle to success on both sides.


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