The 30-Second Test
September 16, 2014
This is fun, and powerfully instructive at the same time.
Ask your boss to extend a forefinger and draw a capital E on his or her forehead.
There is extensive scientific research behind this.
There is no right or wrong way to do it either.
Does s/he draw the E so that it faces his/her own face -- backwards to you, looking at him/her -- or does s/he draw the E so that you, standing in front of him/her, can read it?
This is actually a proven scientific way to measure perspective-taking, the ability to step outside of one's own experience and see the world from another person's viewpoint.
People who write the E so that it's backwards to themselves, but readable to the person in front of them, have taken the other person's perspective.
Those who write the E so that it appears backwards to you, in front of them, haven't bothered to consider your point of view.
Researchers at Northwestern University used this simple test to investigate the connection between power and empathy.
The study showed that while most people seem naturally inclined to take the other person's perspective, providing people a dose of power correlated with their being less likely to draw the E in the perspective-taking way.
"Across these studies, power was associated with a reduced tendency to comprehend how others see, think, and feel."
They don't say why, but suddenly a lot of what we've seen from our leaders -- in our offices, in the corner suites of our companies, and in our government -- makes more sense.
The more power one has, the less empathy one tends to feel and show.
It's written right there on your forehead.