Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Joe Brummer

  • - "Joe Brummer is completely committed to the field of nonviolence and shows it in both his professional and personal decorum. His trainings are inspiring and his mediation skills are those of a seasoned professional.... As of July 1, 2010, Joe Brummer has taken the job of Associate Executive Director at Community Mediation, Inc. in New Haven, CT. All of the same workshops and services are still available through CMI."

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  •  - "Community Mediation, Inc. (CM), established in 1980, is the oldest community-based mediation program in Connecticut. We provide mediation and other conflict resolution services in the greater New Haven area and training throughout Connecticut. Staff and trained volunteers empower individuals, families, organizations and communities to resolve their own disputes"

Edwin Rutsch & Joe Brummer: Dialogs on Building a Culture of Empathy


Discussing the article; Great Negotiators Think With Heads, Not Hearts - Empathy Can Subvert Human Well-Being  on Forbes by Victoria Pynchon


(See the follow up discussion Panel 9 with Edwin Rutsch, Joe Brummer and Victoria Pynchon.)


We video tape a lot of interviews and empathy conference panels. It's helpful to have a transcript of these videos since it makes it easier for viewers to quickly access the information  Visit this page for instructions on how to do it. You will be contributing to the viewers ease of use and personal growth as well as helping to build a culture of empathy and compassion.  We are grateful to you for your help!
 (Thank you
Joe Brummer for this transcription.)

  • Time: 0:00 - Introductions:

  • Edwin Rutsch, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

  • Joe Brummer, Associate Executive Director of a community mediation center

  • Topic of Discussion:

  • Great Negotiators Think With Heads, Not Hearts - Empathy Can Subvert Human Well-Being - Forbes - by Victoria Pynchon 

  • Definitions of “Empathy” vs. “Perspective Taking”

  • The article’s use of the word “empathy” not congruent with Joe’s understanding of the latest research from people like

    • Frans De Waal, Author of “Age of Empathy” or

    • Jeremy Rifkin, Author of the Empathetic Civilisation, or

    • Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz the author’s of “Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered”

  • Current working definition is that is it perspective taking along with the ability to intuit another’s emotional state.

  • Do we have a competitive nature or are we naturally collaborative?

  • Time 6:50:

    •  What is Empathy vs Sympathy and why do we throw those words around so easily and so mismatched.

    • Even in the academic world, the world is used in a variety of ways.

  • Time 6:57:

    •  With Edwin’s work interviewing, reading and study empathy he has broken it down into 4 parts:

      • Self Empathy: Our ability to be connected to ourselves, self-awareness. sensory awareness, self knowledge

      • Mirrored Empathy: connected to mirror neurons, our ability to connect with others. Better self-connected we are the better we can connect with others.

      • also called affective or emotional empathy
      • Imaginative Empathy: Perspective Taking or Cognitive Empathy: We are separate entities.  If I was in someone's shoes, how would I be feeling or acting.

      • Empathic Action: As we emotional and cognitively connect, how do we interact with each other. The blocks to action are removed.

  • Time 11:00: 

    • This article seems to take the perspective taking part and seeing it as separate from the emotional part of empathy.  Not seeing the full definition.  Sees us as win all negotiators.

  • Time 11:28:  

    • A bit like the myth of social darwinism that claims humans are competitive in nature socially.  Myth started by Hubert Spencer.  It has been embraced because our western culture supports the idea we are all just out to get our share. When you do the social research, it seems to say we are concerned about each other’s welfare as much as our own.

  • Time 12:59: 

    • Can see both sides of this.  “I gotta win” thinking isn’t natural.  What people really want at the mediation table is empathy.  As Brene Brown mights say, “Connected: to be seen, heard and valued”.  

  • Time 15:08: 

    •  Something about that drive that we are hardwired to be seen heard and felt.

  • Time 15:22: 

    • When people come to the mediation table and hear what each other is feeling and experiencing, their song always changes.  Many of these point are being made in the article.  The words empathy and sympathy are thrown around like the same thing when they are not.

  • Time 18:36: 

    • Both types of mediation occur.  One where it is two people coming to mutual agreements based on self-interest and others where it is a collaboration because there has been a deeper connection made. Empathy is more “I see you” vs. sympathy which is more like “poor you.”  I see you in distress than I get distressed in response.

    • Empathy is understanding where someone is and what they are feeling.  De Wall and Rosenberg as well, talk about sympathy being the next step.  Now I feel something is response to your distress.

    Time 19:41:

    •  There is agreement that sympathy can be destructive to negotiations.  Sympathy can be a block to empathy.

  • Time 28:02:  Empathy and Rights

  • Pinker thinks we need to expand our circle of rights not the circle of empathy.

  • Joe thinks they are not mutually exclusive.  You can’t get one without the other.  

  • Bullying is an example. Every kid should have the right to an education in a safe school free of bullies.  One of the things we know prevents and stops bullying is teaching empathy.  Empathy leads to the expansion of rights.

  • Empathy is a strong tool is the fight for marriage equality.  To take those who disagreed with marriage equality and have them empathize with what it is like to not have the rights. To see and feel the harm.  

  • Time 31:30: Empathy vs Rules

  • This debate come up often, even in the Supreme Court justice controversy. Can’t have empathy in the justice system because it is a strictly rules based system. The fear is that empathy will lead to favoritism or emotionalism.  For Edwin, we could do without rules if everyone was highly empathic all the time. Rules are a back up to empathy.

  • School systems are making rules to prevent them from getting sued rather than using the tactics we know work to prevent bullying.  

  • We are teaching kids to perform, get great test scores and not focusing on emotional learning.  

  • Kids get needs and feelings better than adults.  Instead of teaching them how to better understand that, we are moving them away from understanding it.

  • More rules we have, the less empathy especially if rules are being implemented with punishment.  Rules become fear based.

  • Zero Tolerance Rules based on fear not empathy.

  • We need empathy to make rules a moral compass.  What's the point in having rules if they are not making life better?

  • Pinker states that we should strive for policies that render empathy unnecessary and Joe thinks it is the complete opposite.  If we expand empathy, the rules become unnecessary. Re-read Pinker’s statement and insert sympathy for the word empathy, and suddenly it makes more sense.

  • Then, we are saying we aren’t making policies because we feel sorry for people.

  • Time 40:13: Circle back around to definitions

  • Sympathy is disconnecting, not being fully present for someone.

  • Sympathy is a block to empathy

  • Nobody wants sympathy

  • No one wants to be told “oh, you poor thing” or worse, “I feel so bad for you”

  • People fall into this response because they want to fix it

  • Time 43:16 Another definition of sympathy (Paul Ekman) involves seeing sympathy as a synchronization of your feelings with the other person.

  • Perhaps a form of connection and yet as a response not helpful

  • empathy is about being compassionately with someone else without getting overwhelmed by our own stuff (feelings). Being present with who they are.

  • Time 45:00 Empathy goes back to Brene Brown’s definition of connection: The energy that happens between people when they feel seen, heard and valued. From the book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

  • Empathy is neutral, neither bad nor good.  It just is.  Not about agreement or disagreement, it is about seen, heard, and valued even “if” we disagree.

  • Article talks about empathy being a feel-good thing and it is not. (Joe)

  • Seen as a positive thing (Edwin).  When people feel heard and empathized with their stress level goes down, release of Oxytocin.  Cortisol goes down just by being heard.

  • Strong social connections led to happiness.

  • Time 47:00 (Joe) Empathy is the vehicle that gets us there.

  • NVC folks often use the term “offering empathy” and that isn’t exactly accurate.  Really, we are using empathy to offer understanding for better or for worse.  

  • I may not agree with you and I am using empathy to understand where you are.  Not really empathy that makes us feel better.  

  • It is the understanding and connection. Being seen, heard and valued.

  • Lowers cortisol, ups serotonin, ups Oxytocin and dopamine.

  • Often in mediation and negotiation the people at the table don’t agree with each other but may finally [through empathy] be able to understand each other.

  • Time 49:40: Never says in the article exactly what she means by negotiation. What type of negotiation.

  • If you are talking about “get everything you can” negotiation than sympathy and empathy could get in the way.

  • If you are talking about negotiation for mutual gain.  Empathy is vital, important.

  • Again, what the article is really talking about is sympathy.

  • Odd to do a study on empathy without a working definition from the experts on empathy about what it is.

  • Perspective taking is empathy.

  • (one part)
  • Time 51:00: Comes back to definitions.

  • Similar  conversation happening in the compassion community.  

  • Even with top scientist, there seems to be disagreement about definitions.

  • To build a culture of empathy we need to work out a clear definition.

  • What about Joe’s thoughts on Edwin’s definition of empathy as 4-parts:   Doesn’t really love the term self-empathy (even though Joe admits he uses it too!).  What self-empathy really comes down to is self-connection and mindfulness.

  • Do we hurt ourselves in our efforts when we don’t use clear definitions and terms.

  • Difference between self-connection and self-absorption.

  • Read Born for Love or Age of Empathy to see we don’t really have a competitive nature.  Has more to do with social learning than human nature.

  • We have different capacities for collaboration, competition, empathy.

  • The arguments of punishments and rewards.

  • People do things when they understand why they are doing them.

  • Time 1:06:08 Last Thoughts!

  • Teach kids empathy!!  Kids have more to teach us than we have to teach them!

  • Reports says this generation is 30-40 percent less empathetic.




Creating a Culture of Innovation: Communication Strategies for Innovators


"On August 27th, 2014 IdeaScale hosted guest speaker Joe Brummer from Community Mediation, Inc. for a workshop addressing one of innovation’s most common challenges: creating a culture that is conducive to innovation and innovative ideas. Brummer introduces communication tactics that have been successfully applied in other IdeaScale innovation programs."



article points

  • negotiating with our heads rather than our hearts.

  • Definitions of “Empathy” vs. “Perspective Taking”

  • Why Enlightened Self-Interest Trumps Sympathy

  • Because our competitive natures (“I need my stuff to survive”) will almost always trump our collaborative inclinations (“we need each other to survive”)

  • western civilization competition-

  • The Better Angels of Our Nature, “empathy can subvert human well-being when it runs afoul of a more fundamental principle, fairness.”

  • empathy is a sucker. “Its head is turned by cuteness, good looks, kinship, friendship, similarity and communal solidarity.

  • an expanded circle of rights 

  • The ultimate goal should be policies and norms that become second nature and render empathy unnecessary. Empathy, like love, is in fact not all you need.

  • As a former litigator and trial attorney turned mediator, peace seeker and negotiation trainer and consultant, I live on the razor’s edge between sympathy and fairness, between adversarialism and collaboration, between my head and my heart.

  • Only when we’re able to achieve the balance between head and heart are we able to serve ourselves and the larger good at the same time.


Instructions -  Don't use wifi  if you can avoid it.