Empathy and the hidden hero story

Have you heard about empathy and the hidden hero story? Empathy is an essential skill for success in medicine, as it is in all areas of human interaction. It’s largely about perspective-taking. Now, taking the perspective of others is easy when we’re all on the same page, but when people want different things, it gets tricky.


Whatever other people do, they tend to do it because they think it’s the right thing. Each of us acts from a place that we consider honourable and rational, no matter how obnoxious it might seem to another person. Each of us is a hero in our own world.

If you approach someone who believes they're being heroic, with a story about how villainous they are, the odds of a successful outcome are pretty low. Can you access the story inside their head? Can you cultivate the curiosity to try and genuinely understand their perspective? Ask yourself: if I had just done what that person did, and believed my actions were perfectly reasonable, what story might I be telling myself?

If you can access the hero story inside others, you’ll not only have a greater understanding of how they think, you’ll build stronger relationships, find new ways to interact and ultimately be in a much more powerful position to collaborate, support or influence.

Thanks to Tristan & Francesca for helping me make new images for our Medical Education website yesterday.