Baader-Meinhof, the Carpet-Man and New-Ballet-Kid.


What do the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, a carpet salesman and a ballet student have in common with recruitment and business behaviour?

Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon? If not, I bet you’ve experienced it. You hear an obscure word on the radio, learn a piece of history or someone uses an old phrase… then you experience the same word, or the same history topic or same old phrase from another source later that day/week.

I experienced it (again) last week. In an interview, one of my candidates was asked what trait they valued most and why. The answer was empathy. Then, I get home and my 5-year-old daughter asks me what empathy means. This is Baader-Meinhof because no candidate has ever said this to me and I don’t expect such a young child to ask me about empathy.

My daughter had been rude to two people that day. Uncharacteristic for somebody usually so kind. A guy had visited to show carpet samples to my wife and this had been frustratingly boring for my daughter. Before he’d quite left, she shouted ‘Good, he’s going’. My wife told her off for being so rude. Later, my daughter saw that a new girl had joined her ballet class. She said, loudly, ‘What’s she doing here?’. Again, my wife told her that this was a terrible thing to say. At some point between me reaching home and talking to my daughter, my wife must have mentioned the concept of empathy.

So, for the second time on the same day, I was giving my thoughts on empathy. I asked my daughter to explain how she’d have felt if she were Carpet-Man or New-Ballet-Kid. She knew it would make her feel sad to be on the receiving end. In the child-rearing game, it was set and match to Daddy. Parenting accomplished.

Since these encounters with the empathy concept, I’ve been thinking about how it links to so many things we all do in business. How important it is and what a great answer it was from my candidate.

Empathy allows us to get closer to how others are affected and how they perceive the world. That allows us to compromise. It helps us to collaborate more effectively. Less obvious is the way in which it helps to keep other traits in line. When we’re empathetic, we tend to be more honest. We don’t like to be lied to, so we treat people with the respect of the truth. I believe it helps me to remain kind, even when someone has let me down. I’ve placed several candidates that disappointed me somehow, months or years later, because they were comfortable enough to come back to me; I didn’t take the moral high-ground for fun, so these people gave me the respect of trying the whole recruitment cycle again.

Empathy moves in cycles and global tolerance is on a downward swing right now. It will swing upwards again when the consensus moves back, but in the meantime, I believe that we should all remember to be empathetic and walk a mile in other people’s shoes – in business, at home, and in our ballet classes.


Exploring empathy and ethics in recruitment
Credit: Jack Cartlidge

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