For many decades, psychologists assumed each of us had a fixed level of trait empathy which couldn’t be increased.

The first to challenge the prevailing view was nursing scholar, Theresa Wiseman. Around 25 years ago she undertook a meta analysis (a study of all the relevant studies) on empathy research. 

Wiseman identified that as well as being a trait, empathy could be understood as a suite of skills or habits to be deployed appropriately (a state, where our behaviour will change depending on external conditions).   So called state empathy can be improved in (nearly) everyone.

Here is a summary of her findings – these are processes which underpin your experience of empathy.

After deeper reading and research, it was clear that listening needed to be included as a critical skill to enhance empathy. From there we played around with the ideas until our own simple framework emerged to capture these insights.

Our model, taught in our signature workshop, is called P.O.L.A.R. Whilst the 5 behaviours apply in different contexts, all are important to deliver empathy.

The 5 Behaviours of Intelligent Empathy


The bulk of the time in our empathy training workshop is dedicated to the 5 behaviours in the P.O.L.A.R™ model:

PERSPECTIVE TAKING – using your imagination to inhabit the perspective of others from within their frame of reference, truly understanding and respecting the stakes for other people and appreciating positions very different to your own

OPEN MINDEDNESS – consider the views and behaviours of others with an open mind, free of judgement, defensiveness and ready to mitigate the likelihood of bias in your opinions. With an open mind, curiosity and generosity replace assumptions and judgement and we embrace anti bias and critical thinking protocols

LISTENING – enhancing your capacity to focus attentively on another and listen deeply. Empathy is other focused – empathy skills enable us to enter the world of other people.  The key is learning to pay closer attention to verbal and non verbal cues and playing back what you’re hearing, without letting your own experience interfere.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – learning to withhold your desire to offer help or advice and simply acknowledge the experience of the other, so they know you have truly understood their situation. Establishing a genuine shared understanding and validating the experience of others is the secret sauce of empathy, add appreciation and encouragement for people to feel truly valued

RESPONSE – we explore how to respond appropriately to the needs of another, including what care and support to offer and what to say. We learn respond to people’s needs in a real and authentic way, building strong relationships, offering support, encouragement or guidance


Empathy and emotion are inextricably linked, so we briefly divert from empathy into the world of emotion, including self awareness, emotional regulation and social learning. Teeming with epiphanies, this session can be life altering for participants.

We explore self empathy, assisting participants with a deeper awareness of emotional responses (their own and others) and better management of their overall well being.

Using a specially created private journal, we include a task where participants design their own prescription to help down regulate difficult emotions, improve responses to stress, prevent burnout and strengthen themselves to face challenges.


A unique feature of our POLAR model is it’s plasticity – once learned, it can be applied to any situation which would benefit from empathetic understanding, from the smallest human interaction to the largest system, and even directed towards yourself. It works:

  • within teams to strengthen trust, respect and belonging
  • between teams to communicate better, overcome differences and to work in a way that brings benefit to all.
  • to all aspects of the customer journey, from awareness to conversion and service
  • to all aspects of the innovation cycle, from insight to development and delivery.
  • between direct care giving team members and the organisations’ clients
  • with external suppliers or stakeholders, including external communications
  • turned towards yourself for greater self empathy and compassion
  • directed to the people you are closest to to deepen your relationships

Following simple practices, life is made better in every respect via the application of everyday empathy