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Is Empathy the Key to Successful Knowledge Transfer?


Communication makes a big difference to the success of knowledge transfer. The fundamental communication model (Shannon & Weaver 1949) of Sender / Message / Channel / Receiver (SMCR) assumes that we will all understand the same message in the same way.

Supported by Bennett’s assumption of difference theory (Bennett 1987), a more constructivist model for communication (Hall & Hall 1990) would assume that we all may have a different reality based upon our own culture and experiences, and therefore we may receive the same message in a different way (and therefore as a consequence could determine a different meaning). As a result, misunderstanding within a Knowledge Transfer process is common.

Similar to Lewin’s Unfreezing / Changing / Refreezing model (Lewin 1951), Bennett proposes that it would be useful if we could use an empathy model of 6 steps to enable such differences to be overcome. I’ve adapted this model below for use in Knowledge Transfer applications: 

  1. Assume that there is difference between yourself as the ‘knowledge giver’ and someone else who is the ‘knowledge receiver’
  2. Know yourself and understand your own point of view
  3. Suspend your own point of view
  4. Imagine how things must appear to the knowledge receiver.
  5. Be empathic and visualise the starting point, objectives, barriers, benefits and processes that will be influencing the position of the ‘knowledge receiver’
  6. Re-establish yourself and move forward in the Knowledge Transfer process taking into account both your own point of view as the ‘knowledge giver’, but also the point of view of the ‘knowledge receiver’. Reflect on both points of view as a continual part of the Knowledge Transfer process.


Bennett, M. (1987) ‘Towards ethnorelativism: a developmental model of intercultural sensitivity’ in Paige, M. (ed.) Cross-Cultural Orientation: New Conceptualizations and Applications,London, University Press of America.

 Hall, E. & Hall, M. (1990) ‘Understanding Cultural Differences: The Germans, French and Americans’,Yarmouth,ME, Intercultural Press.

 Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science,New York, Harper & Row.

 Shannon, C. & Weaver, W. (1949) ‘The Mathematical theory of Communication’,Urbana,IL,University ofIllinois Press.


From → KT Theory

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