You are currently viewing Animals, masters of their soft skills: episode 2/4

Animals, masters of their soft skills: episode 2/4

He possesses beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, and all the virtues of man without his vices.” – George Gordon Biron

This week, a new soft that we will introduce thanks to the best friend of the man: the dog. One of the fascinating aspects of these animals is their loyalty and altruism. Their instinct of protection and affiliation is so high that the simple fact of bringing relief and well-being makes them happy, they feel our sorrows, our joys, they are listening and very observant. According to some studies, dogs are able to read facial expressions, communicate jealousy, show empathy and even watch television. They have acquired these “human” characteristics by evolving from wolves into domesticated animals. But then are dogs closer to being human than we think? Let’s find out today!

To put things in context and get back to our sheep, we are going to distinguish different essential notions. We often tend to confuse empathy and sympathy, and even if these two notions are close they do not mean the same thing.

Empathy :

feminine noun, (calque of the German Einfühlung): the intuitive faculty of putting oneself in the place of another, of perceiving what he or she feels.

When a person is empathetic, he/she understands the emotions and feelings of another person. And is able to put himself in his place. Without necessarily knowing this person, or feeling sympathy for this one. Empathy is listening fully to the other person, without judgment or apprehension.

Sympathy:

Feminine noun (Latin sympathia, from Greek sumpatheia, compassion) The natural, spontaneous, warm inclination of someone toward another person.

When someone is sympathetic, it means that we feel affection for that person. We bond with these people and we can feel common emotions, without putting ourselves in the place of the other person when they feel them.

It is certain that one rarely goes without the other, we tend with affect to put sympathy in empathy and vice versa. These two notions are also to be distinguished from compassion, which refers to feeling pity for the misfortune of others.

🐶 Are dogs empathetic by nature?

But enough of etymology, let’s get back to our friend the dog. Empathy in them -because you may have read that these definitions apply to “people”-, a clever reading of our moral state, actually has some very surprising nuances. An example of this can be demonstrated by a very concrete case. Benjamin Stepp is an Iraq war veteran who lives with a female Labrador named Arleigh. This young man has a traumatic brain injury that causes him to suffer sudden and painful seizures every day that immobilize his legs. Arleigh senses the onset of these attacks and immediately goes to her master’s side with a very concrete goal: to provide him with support, tenderness, reduce his anxiety and control his breathing so that the pain subsides as quickly as possible. So empathy or not empathy? This relationship is so captivating that an ethologist, Natalia Albuquerque, is currently studying the case if you want to know more about it. It is known that dogs can “feel” certain metabolic changes in our bodies that result in, for example, low blood sugar, epileptic seizures… Can dogs be empathetic in anticipation?

🐶 Empathy or emotional contagion?

We must bear in mind that empathy is a complex psychological dimension where very sophisticated cognitive processes operate. What appeals in the empathy of dogs is the ease they have to read our facial expressions and tone of voice; but also their natural attitude to “be contaminated” emotionally by our own states. However, in the case that our emotion is negative, they implement voluntary behaviors to bring us help, support and well-being.

To find out if dogs are capable of empathy, especially towards another species, several experiments have been conducted. For example, one study showed that dogs are more agitated and their stress increases when they hear a human or a dog crying.

Canine empathy is therefore both the result of emotional contagion, mimicry and real empathy.

🐶 How do you become as empathetic as dogs?

What is important to understand is that as humans we also have our own life experience and our own sensitivities. This will create “filters” in us that prevent us from being completely in the present moment. We will start to judge, rationalize, resist what is in front of us in order to modify it. Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in the place of the other person and one of the things that prevents us from experiencing it is our ego.

The ego is that part of us that urges us not to show our weaknesses, that little voice inside us that screams at us to show our best side to avoid being hurt or suffering. It forces us to create distance between what we feel and what we show. It encourages us to lie to change reality and protect ourselves. By doing this, distance is created between us and the outside world and prevents us from being truly and sincerely with the other.

To become empathetic, it requires working on ourselves, being aware of ourselves and our functionings, knowing how to let go and recognize reality, even if it does not suit us, not resisting and being in sincere listening and observation.

🐶 Ok empathy but for the business world it can be useful?

Empathy therefore refers to the ability to put ourselves in the place of others, and this is indeed what makes this quality is highly sought after by in companies.

Indeed, someone who shows empathy towards his or her colleagues will find it easier to interact with them and to build relationships. Emotional skills are just as important as professional skills in a company. It is what makes for a pleasant work environment in which everyone can express themselves freely.

A person who is empathetic to others allows for better communication within the company. First of all, because they are seen as a listening ear for employees in need. It is therefore easier for them to communicate and share their doubts and questions. Indeed, when an employee feels listened to and understood, it is easier for him/her to confide in what is going well or not. This encourages communication.

In companies, empathy is an essential factor of well-being at work. And this for several reasons. First of all, it helps to build trust between employees. When team members show empathy towards each other, the overall work atmosphere is much more pleasant. People listen to each other, understand each other and trust each other. They are able to exchange information in complete confidence and transparency in order to value each other’s work.

Moreover, an empathic person tends to perceive the emotions of others, so he or she is able to see when something, or someone, is not going well. This prevents difficult situations from continuing.

🐶 The empathy checklist

✅ Putting the ego aside

✅Be aware of how you operate

✅Letting go

✅Observe your environment

Dogs will never tell us to take things less to heart. They won’t recommend us to change jobs, to give our relationship another chance, to cut ties with that friend who brings us more problems than benefits. They will never recommend anything to you, nor will they judge you, nor will they criticize your decisions in any way. Our dogs will only “be” there with us, giving us the best of themselves in exchange for nothing. Let us be contaminated by this canine empathy, let us be guided by their way of being in the world!

You see, sometimes in life, the best cure for all your ills has fur and four legs.

-Mark J. Asher

Sources

  • National Geographic (nationalgeographic.com)
  • Our thoughts (nospensees.fr)
  • Sciences et avenir (sciencesetavenir.fr)
  • Cani-science (caniscience.fr)
  • Nature de chien (naturedechien.fr)
  • Courrier Cadres (courriercadres.com)
  • Groupe Partenaire Ressources Humaines (groupe-partnaire.com)