In my study of emotional intelligence, I came across some interesting information on empathy. I have always said women have more empathy than men do. This is perhaps correct in the most general of terms, but the truth is far more nuanced.

Chimps © Meawpong3405 | freedigitalphotos.net

First, empathy is not a single trait. Daniel Goleman breaks empathy into three parts:

  • Cognitive: being able to know how others see things.
  • Emotional: being able to know what others feel, and share those feelings.
  • Sympathetic: being willing to help someone in need.

Women in general excel at emotional empathy – they are better at it than men as a whole. However, this can be a problem. Women can get so swallowed up by the emotions of others. The whole crying and eating ice cream together stereotype is one example of this. Men tend to react differently. They feel the other person’s emotion, but they do not stay there. Most men quickly move past the emotions to trying to do something about the cause of painful emotions. Our desire to “fix” the problem is proof we did read the emotion.

As men, we see solving the problem as the only wise move. However, our wives are not men, and they think and feel differently. I am not suggesting endless commiserating is a good thing, but it does show love and concern. When we move past the feeling too quickly, we unintentionally communicate we do not really care about the feeling, or the person experiencing the feeling. It is not offering a solution that offends; it is failing to sit with them in their emotions before offering solutions.

By the way, studies find the most successful men have a good deal of emotional empathy, along with plenty of the other kinds. This has been shown with groups as diverse as successful business men and chimpanzees. In chimps, females do more comforting than males, with one exception. The alpha male does more comforting than any of the females. Being a strong man does not mean being unfeeling!

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