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As 2016 winds down and my two-week vacation comes to a close, I have had time to recharge and reflect on an incredibly packed year. While there have been many highlights from the year including my son’s first birthday and cruise, there were some lowlights when my wife’s grandfather and my great aunt passed away.
I haven’t written about these things previously because honestly, I’ve been sad to write about them. Both of them lived wonderfully long lives, 92 and 101 respectively, and both got to spend time our son before their passing. Truthfully, I’m not sad for them as much as sad for me as I miss them. But, I know both are in Heaven enjoying eternal salvation.
I have been thinking a lot about both of them recently. They both lived extraordinary fulfilling lives. I’m trying to imagine all that they saw in their lives over the last century.
My Wife’s Grandfather
He was a high-ranking Iranian government official who was second in command over the creation of the major railway system in Iran during the reign of the Shah. He was fluent in a few different languages and was very intelligent. On top of that, he was a father to 8 children, grandfather to 11 children, and great-grandfather to 1 child (my son). He was a very warm, kind man. I’m glad to have gotten to know him over the few years when he lived close to us.
My Great Aunt
My Great Aunt, on the other hand, had no children, but she was always like a third grandma to me. We even called her Nana. She had to quickly get a job to support herself after her beloved husband died when she was only 43 years old. She obtained one at the CIA and very much enjoyed working there. I know she wished to have had her husband with her for the second half of her life, but she always focused on what she did have more than what she didn’t.
Since experiencing these losses, I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy and trying to imagine myself in other people’s shoes. I know many, many people are dealing with loss as well. After the recent election, I have been trying to put myself in both the supporter and dissenter shoes to try to gain a better understanding of the discourse between the two groups. While I don’t pretend I can completely understand each side fully, I do believe I am beginning to appreciate the differing viewpoints between the groups.
With all the discourse though, I wonder if empathy is becoming a lost skill set in the US. Recently, I read studies that found that empathy is on the decline. In fact, since 2000, college students’ empathy levels are 40% lower than those that graduated before them, according to University of Michigan researchers.
Decline of Empathy
Even with the declining rate of empathy among college students the United States, the US still ranks #7 in the world in empathy according to a survey completed by researchers from Michigan State University, the University of Chicago, and Indiana University. Interestingly enough, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia finished #1 and #2 in the survey.
There may be a specific reason for these rankings, though. Financial hardship seems to play a direct role. Researchers found that those who grew up with financial stress were much more likely to exhibit empathy than those who grew up in much more comfortable economic situations. Those with affluent backgrounds showed empathy far less.
Empathy and Investing
In the book, The Emotionally Intelligent Investor, Ravee Mehta explains, “Many of the best investors utilize empathy, which is what allows them to take advantage of the behavioral mistakes of others. They also utilize gut instincts for things such as evaluation of management, position sizing and sensing danger. Intuition is not a magical sixth sense. It is a complex feeling that arises from pattern recognition.”
Empathy and Management
Author Simon Sinek believes that exceptional organizations, “prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.”
In a previous post, I wrote about how I utilized Glassdoor to find companies that treat their employees exceptionally well. This is because this type of treatment breeds loyalty to highly well-run management. Is it any wonder that Google, Facebook and Adobe, which are currently ranked in the top 10, have had great financial success?
How to Increase in Empathy
Sinek posits that people can train themselves to be more empathetic by heeding everyday gestures, such as holding elevators for others or refilling the coffeemaker. Even small acts of kindness release a tiny shot of feel-good oxytocin. He describes how these small acts for others have a building effect in relationships that is likely to be reciprocated. From friendships to work relationships, empathy can have a hugely positive effect.
Empathy can also make one more aware of their own needs, emotions, and behaviors. This leads to a greater self-realization and likely greater overall disposition.
The Power of Humility
Along with acts of kindness stems humility. In leaders, humility has a very interesting effect. In the Harvard Business Review Blog, Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib found that when employees observed diminished ego in their managers — such as humbleness and empowering workers — they reported being more innovative and engaged. These employees were also more likely to suggest new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Humility clearly goes a long way.
Psychopaths on Wall Street?
So we’ve seen demonstrated through various studies how vital empathy and humility are in the workplace. But, do you realize how few on Wall Street actually exhibit these sorts of behavior?
Various studies point to the fact that certain types of people are prone to the pressure and stress of Wall Street. These types of people generally have personalities that dispose them towards impulsivity, fraudulence and lack of empathy. The psychological profile actually lines up with a psychopathic personality.
Another study from the University of St. Gallen also affirms the above research in terms of risk-taking behavior and competition. Researchers found that professional traders actually outperform diagnosed psychopaths. And of course, a common observation of psychopaths is that they lack empathy. How much better would these traders be if they were able to exhibit some empathy?
I guess this explains a lot about the selfishness associated with the Greed is Good mentality. So readers, I plan to become a more empathetic leader and human in 2017. Have you thought about empathy in terms of investing or management? Share your thoughts below.