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Women and Empathy: Is there a Difference?

I was struck by President Obama’s appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as Supreme Court Justice this morning. In choosing her, he affirmed that he was looking for a woman as well as a person who held a “different sense of justice”, by which I understood that he was seeking out someone who would listen to the legal issues of the day with a certain empathy that may be harder to attain in a man. I had dinner with a friend from law school over the weekend, who has been a Superior Court Judge for 12 years. She readily admitted that she believes women bring a heightened sense of empathy to negotiation, and when acting as a mediator. I personally attributed my empathetic leanings to being a mother. Isn’t that part of the job description? And yet, Judge Sotomayor is apparently single and without children. So is there a true genetic difference? I have recently taken an advanced training by Dana Curtis (also a woman, and I don’t know if she’s a mom) on empathy. It was based upon very specific steps which will open both the listener and disputant to a sense of empathy at every level of the negotiation (including the money side after insulting offers and demands were exchanged). As usual, I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m undertaking an updating of my old “gender and negotiations” talk to study the specific question of “Learning Empathy: Can Men Learn to Listen Like Women and Women Learn to Speak like Men?” Do they/we want to?

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Jan Frankel Schau

Attorney Jan Frankel Schau is a highly skilled neutral, engaged in full-time dispute resolution. Following a successful career spanning two decades in litigation, she has mediated over 700 cases for satisfied clients. Ms. Schau understands the nuances of trial and settlement practice as well as client relations and balancing the… MORE >

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