Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

SXSW and Confirmation Bias

Empathy works. It always does.

Also with online harassment.

SXSW-screenshot-350x321That’s the main message for my panel participation at SXSW (Yes, with President Obama as keynote speaker).

A friend tells me that my tagline is an opinion, not a fact. It’s a moralistic judgement. He acknowledges it is my truth, and he tells me I could present it more authentically if I show up in it.

“I believe empathy works. I think it always does.”


Not so powerful. Not so snazzy. More cumbersome.

And yet. He is right (he often is). It is just my belief, based on my years of empathizing NVC-style. Am I suffering from confirmation bias? A cognitive bias wired into our brains that creates the tendency to see confirmation of our core beliefs in our experiences, while disregarding experiences that don’t affirm our core beliefs?

What happened to my scientific scepticism, so well-trained during my graduate studies at Rijksuniversiteit Leiden? Should I actively seek out situations –or create them?- that might disprove my thesis? Something like: Empathy works: In these cases? And not in those?

Gosh, that actually sounds enticing. Can I find situations with a high likelihood of empathy failure? Can I pretend I am initiating research on the limits of empathy? And are you willing to send me examples where you think empathy isn’t enough to create respectful understanding? I would be excited to see how empathy might work, even in the most difficult cases.

You want help to develop awareness of your confirmation bias? Contact me, 512-589-0482 for a free, discovery session.

Thank you, David Nayer, for editing this post during your travels. I am inspired by your dedication to contribute!