Universal motivations and empathy

December 14, 2016 by Joshua
in Education, Exercises

People generally have more motivations than you can sense from their behavior. The more you can sense their underlying motivations, which tend to be their stronger ones, the more you can connect with them as well as to lead them. The skill of sensing others’ emotions is called empathy, loosely speaking.

I view empathy as a skill you can learn, like riding a bike. I came to view it that way from practicing the exercises in my courses, which teach people the skill so they have more empathy. Growing up I hardly knew what empathy meant, let alone that one could develop it.

Some of my courses’ exercises have you communicate and behave with people so they feel comfortable sharing their underlying emotions. Since we share mostly the same emotional system, the deeper you view others’ emotions, the less they result from day-to-day things and the more they connect with universal human issues. Thus, I call the deepest emotions Universal Emotions or Universal Motivations.

The more I hear people share their universal emotions, the more I see patterns—in particular, that there aren’t that many universal emotions motivating most interactions. My students in this semester’s leadership class asked me to list them. I don’t pretend the following list is comprehensive, but it includes most of the universal emotions I’ve come across in doing my courses’ exercises with hundreds of people, not that I’ve recorded them rigorously. Still, I think knowing them help increases your empathy.

Here are the first that come to mind:

  • Recognition for your efforts
  • Satisfaction of a job well done
  • Sense of oneness (with team/customers/world)
  • Competition, finding what you have in you
  • Learning, growth, personal development
  • Proving oneself, security
  • Overcoming some obstacle
  • Finishing something, tying up a loose end
  • Feels like a calling, feels natural
  • What the money is for: like protecting or providing for loved ones, independence

I’ll update the list as I come up with more.

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