This is a short extract in English from my book. (so far the whole book is just available in German)

“Empathy as an important key factor of intercultural competence

Empathy-awareness in executive coachings “

“Every situation, every relationship and every group that we join is an opportunity to create the cultural climate that we like. We can create a climate of compassion or of fear depending on what we make of our mistakes and our judgements on ourselves and others.”[1]

Due to the rise of globalization, management is focusing more and more on intercultural competence (IC).[2] This is because management must solve many different types of problems in their day-to-day work and often across the globe and cultures. This requires intercultural competence. On the one hand, intercultural competence is discussed in research but there are also many practical books and training courses on the subject. In addition, individual coaching is offered especially for management and project managers. Empathy is highlighted as a significant component of intercultural competence in all areas of research. Empathy is considered to be able conquer barriers and as essential for contact with people from different cultures.[3] Empathy is also a buzz word when it comes to finding a solution to the major problems of mankind. In this respect Stephen Hawking believes that empathy can rescue the future of mankind.[4]

But even non-scientists[5] are in agreement that empathy is incredibly important in solving major issues. The Dalai Lama continuously stresses that empathy is the basis for interaction with others.[6]Calloway-Thomas sums up intercultural competence succinctly when she says that empathy represent the most important factor of intercultural relationships.[7]

In many respects, empathy thus becomes a key competence that has been and will be interpreted somewhat differently by different disciplines and according to the author or scientific field. Many different fields: e.g. philosophy, theology, sociology, psychology, neurology, cultural science or pedagogy all grappling with the concept of empathy, as well as the media, art and literature, of course. It is worthwhile linking these and reflecting on empathy especially under the aspect of intercultural competence. It is thus fascinating, in my opinion, to delve particularly deeply into the basic question: “If empathy is such an important key factor of intercultural competence, how can it be learned?”

1.1.Introduction and definition

“I believe empathy is the most essential quality of civilization.”[8]

Empathy as a term has existed for over a hundred years.[9]And despite the fact that it is on everyone’s lips today, the term is interpreted in very many diverse ways. The following perspectives show how differently the term can be used. Jean Decety and William Ickes have compiled views of empathy from different research activities and perspectives. Some examples:

· Unconscious imitation (mimicry).

·The projection of one’s own thoughts and feelings onto others.

· To put one’s self into somebody else’s shoes (change of perspective).

· Knowledge and understanding of the feelings or thoughts of others (cognitive empathy).

· Feeling what others feel (sympathy or sympathetic empathy).

· Empathy as a reaction to the suffering of others (pity, supportive care).

· Empathy from an evolutionary and neuro-anatomical perspective (biology).

· Empathy as an instinct.

· Empathy as a response (from a neuroscientific perspective/brain research).

· A complex affective-inferential process, which can be interpreted as pro-social behavior.

· A fundamental aspect of social development, which should be urgently supported by educators.

· Empathy has cognitive, affective and behavioral aspects and is a mental and biological process.

Due to the fact that there are completely different examples of how empathy is defined, I would like to offer the following overarching definition, in the knowledge that this can merely serve as a rough orientation:

“Empathy is the art of stepping imaginatively into the shoes of another person, and understanding their feelings and perspectives, and using that understanding to guide your actions.”[10]

In my opinion, this definition already integrates important elements of empathy: cognition and a change of perspective, emotions but also response, thus everything that leads to implementation or to pro-social behavior.

3.2.6. Learning the capacity to have empathy

“The clinician must excavate a sadness the patient hasn’t identified, must imagine a pain Stephanie can’t fully experience herself.”[11]

In spite of all the limitations, it can be concluded that empathy represents one of the most important intercultural key competences[12] — one that has become more essential than ever in view of globalization.

This therefore poses the question of how it can be learned, particularly with respect to coaching. First of all there needs to be favorable factors, which are external to coaching:

· People learn empathy through their inborn trust, in particular through secure relationships[13], their upbringing and imitation.

· Empathy increases with age and experience.[14]

· Self-empathy[15]: To enable a person to become empathetic for the long term, they must first of all, during childhood where possible, be empathetic to themselves, thus to perceive emotions and understand and sympathize with them, etc.[16]

· Empathy is also a part of moral building during childhood. The understanding of the other through to sympathy ensures the ability to live together in a group but also leads to people developing moral behavior and a bad conscious, which is a necessary component of this.

· Empathy is learnt by first of all attentively perceiving one’s own feelings and those of others. Perception is the first step.[17]

· Ultimately a company manager can also support people in learning empathy, but often diversity is lacking in this situation. Managers promote those who are like themselves and thus do not have to put themselves into the shoes of the “other” and experience their feelings — daily empathy training of putting one’s self in the other’s shoes is lacking.[18]


[1] (Kelly Bryson Berater, Psychologe und Autor)

[2] „Globalisierung ist ein dynamischer Prozess, der die wirtschaftliche Vernetzung der Welt durch den zunehmenden Austausch von Gütern, Dienstleistungen, Kapital und Arbeitskräften vorantreibt, die wirtschaftliche Bedeutung nationaler Grenzen ständig verringert und den internationalen Wettbewerb intensiviert; so dass durch das Zusammenwachsen aller wichtigen Teilmärkte die Möglichkeiten internationalen Arbeitsteilung immer intensiver genutzt werden, sich der weltweite Einsatz der Ressourcen laufend verbessert, ständig neue Chancen aber auch Risiken entstehen und die nationalen und internationalen politischen Akteure gezwungen sind, sich verändernde Rollen bei der Gestaltung der Globalisierung zu übernehmen, die eine Zunahme interkultureller Interaktionen und Herausforderungen mit sich bringen.“ (Koch 2014, S.9f)

[3] „Empathy is the highest form of communication competence since it enables a person to sense what another person is thinking and feeling and it is essential for effective cross-cultural communication.“ (Maude, S.45)

[4] „…Aggression is the human race’s biggest failing and it “threatens” to destroy us all.…Empathy brings us together in a peaceful loving state.. “(Hawking -The Independent, 12. February 2015)

[5] “Empathy can create a revolution. Not one of those old-fashioned revolutions based on new laws, institutions, or governments,.., more radical, a revolution of human relationships.” (Krznaric, S. 9)

[6] “Empathie ist meines Erachtens nicht nur zur Stärkung von Mitgefühl wichtig, sondern für jeglichen Umgang mit anderen.” (Dalai Lama/Cutler, S.56) His Holiness said the ability of compassion and open attitude towards others is an important path to attaining internal peace. His Holiness also said that empathy and compassion also play a role in solving global problems, including climate change.” (Dalai Lama, Lecture November 30th 2008)

[7] „Of all sentiments that have potential to alter what we do interculturally, none are more important than empathy or sympathy. Although both sympathy and empathy are crucial in human understanding, above all, empathy is the crucible of intercultural relations. Empathy helped us to understand people whose values, views, and behavior are different from our own.” (Calloway-Thomas, S.7)

[8] Roger Joseph Ebert, Pulitzer Prize-winning American film critic and screenwriter

[9] Ähnliche Begrifflichkeiten oder Theorien und Annahmen, welche zu dem Begriff hinführten, sind historisch schon weitaus früher zu finden, immer da, wo Philosophen sich mit ureigenen menschlichen Fragestellungen auseinandergesetzt haben. (Anm.d.A)

[10] (Krznaric, S.X)

[11] (Jamison, S.12)

[12] „Over the years, however the research keeps piling up, and it points strongly to the conclusion that a high degree of empathy in relationships is possibly the most potent and certainly one of the most potent factors in bringing about change and learning.” (Rogers 1975, S.2)

[13] ( vgl.Riedel, S.22 ff)

[14] (Vgl. Baumann, S.74)

[15] “To listen to oneself is a prerequisite to listening to others.“ (Rogers/Farson 2015, S. 19)

[16] (Vgl. Baumann, S.67)

[17] „You cannot have any concern or sacrifice for another person if you do not recognize when that person is suffering. ..You will not know they are suffering unless you have emotion recognition.” (Dalai Lama/Ekman, S.177)

[18] „Die Charta der Vielfalt ist eine Unternehmensinitiative zur Förderung von Vielfalt in Unternehmen und Institutionen. Bundeskanzlerin Dr. Angela Merkel ist Schirmherrin. Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Migration, Flüchtlinge und Integration, Aydan Özoğuz, unterstützt die Initiative.

…Die Initiative will die Anerkennung, Wertschätzung und Einbeziehung von Vielfalt in der Unternehmenskultur in Deutschland voranbringen Die Vielfalt der modernen Gesellschaft, beeinflusst durch die Globalisierung und den demografischen Wandel, prägt das Wirtschaftsleben in Deutschland. Wir können wirtschaftlich nur erfolgreich sein, wenn wir die vorhandene Vielfalt erkennen und nutzen. Das betrifft die Vielfalt in unserer Belegschaft und die vielfältigen Bedürfnisse unserer Kundinnen und Kunden sowie unserer Geschäftspartner.“ (Charta der Vielfalt:

Intercultural Communication and Cooperation (MA), Professional Coach, post-graduate Change-Manager, Organisational Structuralist, Sports Trainer, Self-employed.