Today the Center for Empathy in International Affairs (CEIA) is delighted to announce it has agreed a partnership with the Swiss Foreign Ministry – the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) – to strengthen the role of empathy in global peacemaking.
This is a path-breaking initiative – the first time that any government has taken concerted steps to incorporate empathy into its diplomatic and mediation capacities.
Through the partnership, CEIA’s team of professionals will share insights from international affairs and behavioural sciences, as well as facilitate discussions, exercises and simulations, to enhance the strategic empathy skills of Switzerland’s diplomats and mediators. The partnership involves high level workshops on empathy, as well as overseas field research to illuminate the complex psychological terrain of conflict.
Matt Waldman, Director of CEIA, said:
“We are honoured and delighted to have the opportunity to work with the Swiss Foreign Ministry. At last, empathy is being recognised as a vital asset for understanding others and building relationships in the tumult of war.
“Nothing is of more value to a mediator than to understand what is going on in the minds of warring parties. In enhancing the ability of diplomats to discern, anticipate and influence others, empathy has a critical role in opening up new pathways for peace.
“Switzerland is a leader in international peacemaking. We greatly look forward to supporting its important work through this exciting and innovative partnership.”
The utility of strategic empathy is set out in several recent expert papers, such as Software of Geopolitics, based on a discussion at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, in London. Empathy has a range of potential uses: it equips diplomats with a deeper understanding of others, informs decision-making, helps to build trust and strengthen relationships, exposes misperceptions, highlights opportunities for peace, as well as potentially engendering a sense of recognition and catalyzing new ways of thinking. Yet, so far the relevance of empathy in diplomacy and international mediation has been widely neglected by both governments and international organisations.
Despite the common assumption that empathy skills are purely intuitive and cannot be improved, extensive scientific research has shown that empathy skills can be enhanced by training. With experts CEIA has developed a pedagogy for enhancing the empathy skills of international mediators and diplomats which involves facilitated whole-group and small-group discussions; presentations drawing on the latest scientific research and insights; as well as structured exercises, role-plays, simulations and case studies.
So far, CEIA has run two Workshops on Strategic Empathy in partnership with the Human Security Division of the FDFA in Bern, Switzerland. The first, over two days, was held on 19-20 March 2018 for 10 diplomats. The second took place on 9 October 2018 for 20 diplomats. Each workshop covered the following topics:
(1) Empathy as a concept and skill, and the broad lack of acknowledgement of its utility in international policy-making and conflict resolution;
(2) The role of psychology in driving conflict, drawing on an Afghanistan case study;
(3) The range, type, cause and impact of biases and emotions in conflict;
(4) The role of active listening and empathizing in discerning perceptions, biases and emotions, including an exercise where participants get to test their own active listening skills in a challenging case;
(5) The role of empathy in building relationships and trust, including, in the October workshop, a case study on Nepal;
(6) The challenges of empathizing in the contexts of disputes, including an exercise involving switching perspectives, in which participants get to see the way they engage in a difficult dispute;
(7) The utility of empathy in conflict resolution, as well as the limits and risks that need to be managed; and
(8) Tools and techniques for applying and practising empathy.
Matt Waldman, Director of CEIA, led both Workshops for Swiss diplomats. In the first of those Workshops he was joined by Harvard Professor Bob Bordone and in the second Workshop Matt was supported by CEIA research assistant, Rahel Freist-Held.
Matt Waldman is a conflict resolution specialist who has previously served as a mediation adviser to the United Nations envoys for Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia, and as a special adviser at the European Institute of Peace and Inter Mediate. Matt is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and was previously a Fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.
Robert Bordone is the Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the founder of the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. He teaches several courses at Harvard Law School, including the school’s flagship Negotiation Workshop, and is the author of award-winning books and academic articles on dispute resolution.
Rahel Freist-Held has professional experience in the development sector, especially European security challenges. She is a German national who holds an MPhil from Cambridge University.