Congruence, Empathy, Transparency

July 12, 2009 by
Filed under: Leadership, People, Teamwork 

I recently finished working with groups that had a wide range of personalities and backgrounds, and were split into teams to deal with a comprehensive project. It never ceases to amaze me the differences in the way some groups manage to get along just fine, while others never seem to gel.

One group in particular, probably more so than any group I have ever encountered, had gone through some nasty challenges. Through a combination of cultural biases, gender biases, and the resulting misinterpretations that come from looking at situations through their own filters, they actually never did manage to resolve the issues they faced.

I think there were several deficiencies that contributed to this situation.

First off, there were problems with how some of the people found it difficult to appreciate that there were other perspectives to be considered. “I see things my way, how could anyone else see them differently?” Without an ability to empathize with others (not necessarily agreeing, but understanding), to walk in their shoes and see things from the other person’s perspective, it became very difficult to appreciate that person for their potential contributions. They were simply seen as different, therefore wrong and a lesser team member.

Next was the challenge of acting in a manner that wasn’t congruent with their stated values. There have been times with this group where behaviour in one situation was the polar opposite to behaviour in another situation. Someone could be calm and respectful in a face to face situation (for example), but later recant their opinions or express themselves quite differently elsewhere. Assuming we are living to one self-consistent set of values, our words and deeds should reflect this consistently.

With both congruence and empathy, we all have different degrees of transparency: how easy it is for others to read these attributes. One way to look at transparency is that it is an external manifestation, a way of expressing the observability of congruence or empathy in someone else. In someone who is transparent, we can more readily assess how congruent or empathic they are, and in that light, I would see transparency as a good thing.

Unfortunately, in this case, we had a situation where someone appeared transparently un-empathetic (while apparently congruent), while another appeared transparently incongruent (though apparently empathetic). In this situation, a caustic mix.

Those around these people, including me, have been caught up in the fray. I’ve taken some (what I see as) unfair shots, but I expect I’ll survive. The rest of the team has certainly suffered from this situation as well. Hindsight would suggest that it might have been better to split the team up much earlier, though overall I still believe that this solution is sought too early in most cases. Perhaps if we had been able to intervene with frank discussions about congruence and empathy, we could have made inroads.

This situation makes me look at other situations from the same perspective. How are we behaving as a family? What is my relationship like with other clients, or business associates, or friends? Would this reflection help me understand other situations where relationships have been less than stellar?

Are there adjustments I can make to my empathy, my congruence, and the transparency to which others observe these in me? – JB


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