By: Amy Shepley
The Empathy Component measures comfort level with emotional expression and involvement of feelings. High scores tend to be more open and expressive with their emotions both positive and negative. When a high Empathy person is happy, you know it – you can see it. And when they are feeling down it is usually obvious from their demeanor. Low scores on the other hand tend to be more restrained in their display. It is usually more difficult to get a read on how they are feeling. This is not to say they don’t experience emotions but their natural style is to deal with emotions in a more practical, objective way.
So let’s talk about the Empathy reversal. In the case of the reversal, we have a person who describes his Usual style as being high Empathy or emotionally expressive. The interesting part, or the surprise, is his Need score. Even though he describes himself as being emotionally expressive, he doesn’t see other people as being emotional. He is making a distinct statement about his level of emotionality here. Not only does he see himself as being as emotional, he sees himself as being significantly more emotional than other people. Our assumption in dealing with him would be that he needs emotional support as well as an outlet for his feelings. We may think he needs a warm hug or sympathy when he seems upset. Again, our natural assumptions in the case of a reversal tend to be wrong. Not only does he not appreciate our empathetic style, it actually makes him flat out uncomfortable. His Need indicates that he expects others to be more practical and objective in their dealings with him. He sees himself as the more emotional one, not other people. He expects others to be more pragmatic and detached. As a reminder, having our expectations met is what keeps us in our productive Usual style. When our expectations are not met we risk going into our Stress behavior. As always with a reversal, the Stress behavior is an exaggerated, negative version of his Usual style. He becomes emotional in an unproductive way; worrying unnecessarily, becoming discouraged, or exaggerating his problems.
I have a good friend with the score pattern above. She is empathetic, emotionally expressive and very often moved to tears by both happy and sad events. On more than one occasion this friend has come to me frustrated, discourage or upset. Every time I switch on my High Empathy Usual Style and try to hug her, my friend recoils in discomfort. Light bulb! That Low Empathy Need gets me every time.
I always check out the Empathy Need score before my Birkman feedbacks. I like to see if the individual is going to prefer a supportive, empathetic ear or if he or she prefers to keep the conversation objective and based on facts. This helps me cater my feedback session to the Needs of the person I am giving the feedback to instead of my own preferences and needs.
Do you have an Empathy reversal? Have you had an “a-ha” moment with a client? I would love to hear about your experiences. Jump over to LinkedIn and let’s continue our conversation on reversals.