The Empathy Test

Imagine you’re driving on the highway in the middle lane. It’s a bit congested and you’re moving at about 50 miles an hour. Then a small, beat-up car with a young male driver zooms up from behind you and cuts into your lane as he shoots up the highway, going at least 80.

What do you do?

  1. Speed up and try to get close to him
  2. Curse at him or get angry
  3. Just keep driving
  4. Feel sympathy for him


Your immediate reaction

Close your eyes and picture the scenario. Put yourself in the moment. What are you feeling? What’s your immediate reaction?

Now think about why you would feel that way. Did the fact that the driver was young make a difference? Or that the car was beat-up? If so, why?


What I didn’t tell you

What I left out was that there was another person in the car that you couldn’t see. It was a young child, suffering from an asthma attack. The driver was the child’s father, and he was frantically racing to an emergency room to get help.

Now how would you answer the question above?

Practicing using your pause button

This scenario is more common than you think. Instead of being upset by someone’s driving, it could have been an email you received, or the way the barista handed you your coffee. When something irritates you, you can react almost instinctively with negatives emotions and a label.How rude! What a jerk! It can ruin a part of your day, and often you’re completely wrong.

Each interaction – in the car, via email, at the cafe – is a chance to take the Empathy Test, to pause and ask yourself “Is what I’m thinking absolutely true?” and “How might this look from their perspective?”

The more you practice using this simple pause button, the better you become at considering other possibilities and other points of view. You’ll be happier, and you’ll find your relationships with other will improve too.