Ryan W. Quinn
One of the stories that Adam Grant tells in his book, Give and Take, which I have been discussing in recent blog entries, is the story of a businessman from Australia named Peter Audet. Peter had built up his business with the help of his partner, Rich. The two men worked well together early on, but eventually Rich began taking a massive salary without working much. He poisoned the culture, took money for his home out of the company account, and also had a line of credit with the company that no one knew about, all while buying a massive home on the Gold Coast. Because Peter had a close relationship with Rich, for a long time he felt unable to take action against him. He felt like Rich was his older brother. As Adam Grant points out, Peter was a victim of his own empathy.
The Down Side to Empathy
I find the idea that people can be victims of their own empathy a fascinating one. Empathy occurs when one person shares the feelings of another. In Lift, we argue that empathy is the essence of being other-focused, and therefore a central element of positive influence. A person’s influence is unlikely to be positive if they have not felt empathy for those who are stakeholders in a situation. And yet Peter’s empathy for Rich—in particular, his worry about how Rich would feel if Peter took action against him—prevented Peter from doing the right thing in this situation. (more…)