There is a word in Italian and other romance languages that can’t be translated into English: Simpatico. The dictionary defines the word as [sim-‘pä-ti-‘kō] adj Informal 1. pleasant or congenial 2. of similar mind or temperament; compatible. I have also heard it translated as likeable or nice. Yet those translations do not capture an element at the root of the word “simpatia,” which poorly translates into English as sympathy.
I catch myself using this word a lot to name the emotional and intuitive “sense” that takes place “below the neck” when people work with groups. We know what it is, and yet we can’t define it.
I can say that “simpatia” exists only in the interaction between Individuals; it is not a personality trait, although an individual may be particularly adept at developing rapport in certain situations. And I find that people that are “simpatici” are more creative together and more likely to build positive results. So, what does it mean to be “simpatico” or its opposite “antipatico”? What does “simpatia” mean for our work with groups? Are we “simpatici” while facilitating collaboration?
Are we builders of a “community of feelings”?
The meaning of “simpatia” has nothing to do with compassion or pity. Instead, the word comes from sympatheia; sympathes in Greek meaning, “having a fellow feeling, affected by like feelings.” Both words come from syn– “together”+ pathos “feeling,” literally feeling with. On the other hand, when you do not like someone and perhaps can’t explain why, you might say that that person is “antipatica”. Literally this mean that you can’t feel with that person, you can’t connect at an emotional level.
I like to say that “simpatia” highlights the ability to build rapport, to build a “community of feeling” animated by “affinity between certain things.” Rapport is the closest concept I have found though this too is not a perfect fit.
Are we antipatici with our groups? Can we connect with others at an emotional level? Can we create with our groups a “community of feeling”? How? Are there people whom you like a lot but are unable to say why? Wouldn’t it be great to understand and emulate what it is about those people that makes them “simpatici” to us?
A recipe for “simpatia”?
While everybody is looking to make the most of this enlivening dynamic—whether they are salespeople, teachers, or consultants—we also know that it can’t be faked. In fact, individuals experience “simpatia” as the result of a combination of qualities embodied by each individual during an interaction, often at an unconscious level.
Research shows that there are three elements present when rapport exists:
Mutual attentiveness: Paying attention to each other—not focusing on yourself—is one key to building rapport, along with experiencing the dynamic as being reciprocal. Questions to ponder:
- In what ways can we pay attention to each person in the group?
- How do we gain people’s attention in a non-manipulative way?
- How do we actively pursue reciprocal attention in our groups?
Shared positive feeling: Another key is to hold a joint focus on each other. This goes beyond paying attention to really “feeling with,” and establishing an affinity—a common ground. Questions to ponder:
- Are we really listening to each other?
- What happens when we tune in to each others’ feelings in a group?
- In what ways we can find elements of common ground with total strangers?
Coordination or Synchrony: Exchanges that are spontaneous—not guarded, but free-flowing—are most likely to result in rapport. Questions to ponder:
- What if we drop our guard in our exchanges with groups?
- What does it mean to be authentically present with a group for you?
I wish you fun and fulfillment as you explore “simpatia” when you work at facilitating collaboration!
Adriano understands how to increase your returns on leadership. He works with professionals in world-class organizations that include Philip Morris, Microsoft, the World Bank, Johns Hopkins University, the US Marine Corps, the State Department and NASA. A skilled experiential educator with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of ParticipAction Consulting, Inc., a firm committed to help clients redefine change, collaboration and power in their organizations. He co-authored "Teachable Moments of Leadership" with Jill Hufnagel in 2016, on a learning methodology that gets results by going from PowerPoint to …powerful!