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the empathy gap

What's Wrong with the Conversation About the "Empathy Gap"

The public conversation about candidates' "empathy gap" misses the point.

By Laura Zax

August 13, 2012

This piece is adapted from a letter to the editor written in response to the piece "New Focus for Romney on Connecting and Closing the Empathy Gap," which appeared in the New York Times on August 10.

There’s a big gap in all of the press on Governor Romney’s "empathy gap:" an understanding of what empathy really is. To conflate empathy with “likeability,” as this and other articles do, grossly oversimplifies the e-word. Likeability is a character trait, and one that, though it may have implications at the polls, brings little to bear on whether a candidate has what it takes to lead. Empathy, on the other hand, is a skill—a mix of cognition, emotion, and action—that is absolutely critical for effective leadership. The ability to understand what others are experiencing, and to guide one’s decision-making accordingly, ought to be the first thing we look for in a president. Let's stop treating empathy as a PR asset and reemphasize it as a leadership necessity.