Enhancing Intervision with Empathic Practices

In our previous article we introduced you to Empathic Intervision as a new peer-to-peer structured method of interaction for groups working together to identify opportunities and co-create solutions. We described how it supplements intervision with the advantages of layered empathic capacities to aid deeper hearing and consideration of each other’s perspectives. We also discussed the general process of Intervision meetings and described its contributions to well-being, personal growth, innovation and learning for individuals, organisations and groups.Today we continue by describing some of the challenges people experience with Intervision. We then continue, showing how Empathic Intervision is designed to address these challenges and enhance Intervision benefits. Additional layers of empathic skills will be introduced and Empathic Intervision is explained.

Challenges with existing Intervision Methods

Intervision methods are generally successful in improving professional expertise and quality of work. They do, however, come with specific challenges.

Conflicting intentions and expectations

Peers joining an intervision may come to the group with different expectations of- and intentions for a meeting. Some people are inclined to grab a cup of coffee and throw up their legs, while others feel there are pressing issues and no time to waste. These differences can create tensions which go unnoticed unless explicitly voiced.

Lack of trust

The nature of the intervision process relies upon mutual trust. Confidentiality is essential. What is discussed during intervision stays there. Participants are not allowed to take any of the information discussed into other conversations, unless with specific consent. But establishing trust is frequently taken for granted. Having no formal way to contract ethical responsibilities with one another, leads to -often unintended- mistakes. Once trust is breached, interpersonal problems inevitably arise.


People interacting together regularly start to take each other’s way of working and thinking for granted. In these situations diverse views can disappear and creativity can wither. It becomes more and more difficult to come up with creative alternatives to current problems his may lead to demotivation to hold more intervision meetings as well as a lack of finding ways to solve issues at work.

How Empathic Intervision enhances Intervision

Empathic Intervision addresses the complexity of interpersonal dynamics in diverse groups. It applies layered empathic capabilities to the intervision method to facilitate interpersonal processes. If left unacknowledged and unharnessed, group dynamics may undermine the intervision process. Empathic capabilities are engaged in Empathic Intervision to ensure that unique skills and perspectives associated with diversity are embraced to facilitate creativity and innovation rather than causing aggravations between people.

Intention setting

The outcome of the intervision meeting is better served if it is guided by a skilfully articulated intention. Empathic Intervision is useful to you and your colleagues when it is applied as a means to an end. Intentions act as a road-map guiding the individual and collective will and actions with a particular focus.

Each Empathic Intervision meeting begins with setting a collective and a personal intention. The collective intention is named as such since it is agreed upon with the whole group. Taking time to discern a collective intention alleviates the problem of people coming to the meeting with different expectations of, and intentions for, the meeting. The personal intention represents each individual’s intention towards the collective intention. It shows all participants the depth and breadth of perspectives and establishes both, focus and commitment.

Ethical responsibility

Working effectively and efficiently with others in an Empathic Intervision meeting requires mutual trust. This in turn requires creating a conducive environment for each person to be courageous to offer their best. It requires sharing experiences, thoughts and feelings. The most innovative solutions emerge when people are able to share their most deeply held insights and creativity. These aspects are often accompanied by feelings of vulnerability. It is therefore essential that all participants in the meetings carry a shared ethical responsibility to uphold an environment that embraces confidentiality and the suspension of judgment. Empathic Intervision emphasises the practice of ethical responsibility with a step in the structured process dedicated to contracting the required environment by the members of the group.

Arriving with self-empathy and personal intention setting

Practising helps you to develop agency, the awareness of yourself as being the initiator of actions, desires, thoughts and feelings. With self-empathy you become aware of your own experiential state in each moment. This enables you to differentiate your own emotional experience from the experiences of others. In the group it helps to become aware of your intentions, how you relate to others and how you avoid slipping into groupthink.

Coordinating interaction and synchronization with kinesthetic empathy

Interpersonal dynamics in a group can be complex. Often the complexities are provoked through intentions and states of being expressed and responded to through bodily gestures. Kinesthetic empathy is applied to intervision practice as a way to bring awareness to these unconscious expressions and to help you and the group to synchronize and coordinate with each other. You become more aware of the influence you have on each other and on your and their physical space. When self-empathy and kinesthetic empathy are practised together, the best of individual and group thinking is brought into being.

Mutual understanding through reflective conversation

Once intentions are set and ethical responsibility is contracted, a space is created to address the issue at hand. In conventional intervision methods, a speaker speaks and peers listen. Empathic Intervision has a different approach to gathering information. It asks peers to reflect back what they hear the speaker say. The advantage of this type of conversation is threefold:

  1. It slows down the process, giving everyone time to reflect and not jump to conclusions.
  2. It makes sure peers hear and understand what is being said and gives the speaker the possibility to correct if what is being said gets interpreted in a way which does not correspond with the experience of the speaker.
  3. It holds up a mirror for the speaker to reflect on what is experienced, which gives opportunity to develop and deepen the issue at hand.

Identifying and considering perspectives through imaginative empathy

While the to and fro of empathic conversation gives an opportunity to clarify the experience of the speaker, it does not offer alternative perspectives. Chances are that the search for common understanding actually has an adverse effect: it narrows the way group members look at the topic. Imaginative empathy uses imagination and acting to enable you to renew your outlook on the issue at hand, understand the perspectives of others in your group and to experience the effects of having a problem explored from multiple perspectives. It is used as a means to explore complicated, complex or stressful situations through ‘as-if’ acting.

Empathic Intervision makes work engaging and challenging

The peer-to-peer nature of intervision makes this organizational approach relevant to current organizational development. We are observing the emergence of practices such as human-centric design, agile self-organizing teams and co-creation, where the aim is to bridge silos, cross barriers and engage a broader range of knowledge. Hierarchical systems, in which experts are able to define a path and influence follow-through, are losing traction. Methodologies are emerging that rotate power dynamics from hierarchical to horizontal. The aim is to enable people to engage their authentic, motivated selves at work.

Intervision is an approach to action learning and experiential learning. The process of Empathic Intervision provides a method of organized dialogue that responds to the needs, in organizations, for a human-centred approach. As a peer-to-peer process it aims to transform traditional hierarchical power dynamics. It also combines work with learning. Colleagues are able to tap into their combined knowledge, experience and skill repertoire to explore complex work issues in real-time.

We hope to have given you a taste of what Empathic Intervision is and how it can be of benefit to a diverse range of organisational processes. If this has sparked your interest, why not have a look at our website, where you will find more information about the different programs we offer, the science informing this method as well as ways to contact us.