Like a Rolling Stone – The art of empathy

I am privileged to belong to The Stone Club.  Led by Carole Stone, former producer of BBC’s flagship Question Time.  The Stone Club is a meeting place for minds, connecting businesses, social enterprises, entrepreneurs, media and politics.  During my time attending The Stone Club, I have met Professor Charles Handy, Michael Buerk, the entrepreneur Lara Morgan, senior executives for Fortune 500 companies and quite a few less famous but equally phenomenal people.

I first met Carole many years ago where we shared a stage at Pfizer alongside John Otway.  Carole’s last networking event had an extremely engaging presentation and dialogue on the art of empathic conversation in a complex and changing world.  This session was jointly presented by Oman Krznaric, writer, cultural thinker & Co-Founder of The School of Life, and Karl James, Director of The Dialogue Project.

One of the phenomenal people I connected with at this event was Andrea Ehrenberg who offers live graphic facilitation.  Here is the rich picture / word collage that she produced live during the conversation in front of about 70 people.  An amazing feat.  Although I am an expert mind mapper, Andrea combines systemic and creative thinking with a more artistic approach than my own fair hands are capable of.  Check her work out for your next live graphic facilitation event.

The art of empathy

For me, the hallmark of a great networking event is great company, the kind of learning that leaves you with as many new questions as answers, plus a superb social element to the event.   Carole Stone does it all with swan like grace.  Here are some of the questions we explored.  Feel free to post your thoughts here.

  1. To what extent does an oversupply of Emotional Intelligence and empathy drive out the ability for business leaders to make tough decisions and lead change?
  2. Can empathy be taught?  If so, are children naturally inclined to be empathetic but it is drilled out of them as they get older?  If that is true, do we need more empathy lessons for adults rather than thinking it needs to be taught to kids?
  3. Is empathy a critical skill and more important than negotiation when dealing with critical conflict situations, such as the ones described in war zones?
  4. When is empathy a more powerful ‘soft’ skill than ‘hard’ skills such as direction, selling, negotiation and so on?

Let us finish with a different kind of provocation about the past and future of pop, politics, people and life.  Not Carole Stone, but a Rolling Stone:


11 responses to “Like a Rolling Stone – The art of empathy

  1. Peter,

    Again, most interesting! Some say that EQ is one of the key fundamentals to true leadership…

    I believe business EQ evolves comes from “business wisdom” – what I mean here is not how long one has been managing/engaging with people in the workplace but how truly “in tune” a leader is with what happens on a day to day basis in the trenches. This “tunes” the level and type of EQ required to hit the right notes with the right people, to ensure all sing off the same hymn sheet…

    One needs to keep in mind EQ does not imply being “nice and polite” to all, all the time, and neither does empathy. As I often say, “as a leader one has the democratic option to be autocratic when the situation calls for it” i.e. empathetic tough love!

    “…At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
    Go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse
    When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
    You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal..”


  2. hi Peter
    May I suggest a further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion.
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

    I posted a link to your article in our
    Empathy and Compassion Magazine
    The latest news about empathy and compassion from around the world

    I think its Roman not Oman – Krznaric, unless he changed his name.

    was there a video of the event?


  3. Fascinating. We’d have a problem if we were all charming, glowing with empathy and full of emotional intelligence. Human kind thrives on and is the product of difference, messy complexity and having to accommodate this.


  4. I guess it’s the path one chooses in life….

    Path 1:

    “Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
    With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
    Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
    A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

    Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,
    Towering over your head.
    Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,
    And she’s gone.”


    Path 2:

    “Please allow me to introduce myself
    I’m a man of wealth and taste
    I’ve been around for a long, long year
    Stole many a man’s soul and faith

    And I was ’round when Jesus Christ
    Had His moment of doubt and pain
    Made damn sure that Pilate
    Washed his hands and sealed His fate

    Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name
    But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game…”


    Path 3:

    “When I die and they lay me to rest
    Gonna go to the place that’s the best
    When I lay me down to die
    Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
    Goin’ up to the spirit in the sky
    That’s where I’m gonna go when I die
    When I die and they lay me to rest
    Gonna go to the place that’s the best…”



  5. Empathy – it is good to hear the word used in a business context, I fully support this approach to dealing with both clients and suppliers. I am embarressed to say that I used be intolerant to suppliers who were unprofessional, forgetting I was once a sales nubie.

    I believe we are all born selfish, with demands we put on our parents. We the subject of our environment, we need empathy to be demonstrated, before it can be adopted. Blessings often come in guise of trouble, it is how we respond that shows the difference.

    By choosing to first see things from others perspective, we can resolve conflict, greed, misstrust, and intolerance.

    Every relationship will have mistakes in them, it is how we choose to deal with them, that decides whether we die a lonely person or one with no regrets.

    The root to success is slow for those that choose empathy as the vehicle, but the foundation goes down deep.


    • Many thanks for stopping by and adding this comment Gary. I agree, empathy is a great lubricant in life, although, like most things, it can be used for good or bad. One of the speakers was of the view that it can be used in all situations and I find that just a bit too far. Some of the world’s master manipulators have been empathetic in outward apperaance.

      I love your final sentence – it would make a great quote.



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