WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Everyday Mind Reading by William Ickes

Ickes is a well known researcher in the area of empathic accuracy – in other words he studies how good people are at identifying others’ feelings. This book provides an easy way to follow and understand the research on this topic, without having to read all the dense academic papers.

In many ways, this book is like an academic autobiography. Ickes describes how he became interested in his research topic, and then describes the various research projects and experiments he designed and conducted with his colleagues and research students. I love the way you can see how his thinking developed – how one set of findings led to another set of questions, and how he went about following a lifetime’s path to understand the concept of empathic accuracy.

Some of the findings Ickes discusses seem to be common sense, but there are also many surprises.

For example, studies show that the average person can identify with reasonable accuracy what another person is feeling only about 30% of the time. Even the star performers in the studies only reached about 50% accuracy. Also, while our accuracy improves based on how well we know the other person, this only helps a small percentage, and also doesn’t continue to improve over time. In fact, people in long term marriages frequently performed worse in empathic accuracy testing about their spouse’s feelings compared with strangers who only interacted with the spouse for a short time!

Promisingly, Ickes suggests that empathic accuracy can be improved through the use of a special kind of feedback training and the beneficial results of this training emerge quickly.

Ickes also cautions that there is a downside to empathic accuracy. He explains that there are sure to be some things going on in the minds of other people that, if available to us, would cause us pain or distress and that we would just as soon not know about.

If you’re interested in knowing more about empathic accuracy, it’s a topic we discuss in our Working With Emotions in Conflict course. Find out more about that course here: https://www.conflictmanagementacademy.com/wwe-online

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