Singular Empathy

Marshall Goldsmith explains that “authentic empathy is doing your best to be the person you need to be for the people who are with you now.1” Empathy is not important because it makes us more compassionate, moral, or kind. “Empathy’s greatest utility is how effective it reminds us to be present.”

This aspect of empathy—trying to be what the other person needs of us at the moment—is often forgotten. Many times, thinking we are being empathic, we consider what we would do or how we would feel in the other person’s shoes. And it doesn’t work. What’s best for us may not be what’s best for someone else. Which is kind of what being an individual is all about.

Goldsmith calls this kind of empathy singular empathy. Not only because the term singular helps us focus on a single person or situation, but “also because it reminds us that each discrete opportunity to display our empathic powers is a unique and exceptional event. Singular empathy is unique to the moment; it changes with each situation. Sometimes it resembles the empathy of understanding, other times the empathy of feeling, caring, or doing. The only constant with singular empathy is how it concentrates our attention on a single moment and therefore makes it singular for all involved.”

  1. cfr Marshall Goldsmith, quoting actor and singer Telly Leung in The Earned Life, p. 263. ↩︎

singular empathy empathy Marshall Goldsmith

Join my free newsletter and receive updates directly to your inbox.