The potential of the empathic ability for the performance of civil engineering projects

Guus Keusters*, Frédérique Batelaan, Froukje SleeswijkVisser, Erik Jan Houwing, Hans Bakker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The increasing complexity of civil engineering projects necessitates focusing on new competencies of project participants. Based on the research on team performance and design processes that are more closely linked to the relevance of the project context, it is hypothesised that empathic abilities could play an important role in the performance of civil engineering projects. Therefore, this study aims to investigate whether performance can be improved by focusing on empathic abilities during the integrated design phase.

Semi-structured in-depth interviews with experts were conducted to explore the relevance of empathic abilities and their interaction with performance in a real-life infrastructure project. The project team’s empathy level was measured by means of a survey using Davis’ Interpersonal Reactivity Index method. Finally, differences between expected and measured levels of empathy were analysed.

The results provide insights into how empathic abilities interact with performance. The measurement indicates that, on average, professionals in the civil engineering industry score relatively low on empathy. In addition, differences were identified between the expected distribution and the measured empathy levels of the team, implying a potential for improvement, in particular by increasing the empathic abilities of the project management and increasing gender diversity.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to investigate a relationship between empathy and the performance of civil engineering projects. The results provide initial insights into the empathic ability of civil engineering project teams and the potential of empathy to improve performance. Furthermore, from an empathy perspective, this study advocates increasing the gender diversity of project teams to improve performance.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Engineering, Design and Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Design
  • Diversity
  • Empathy
  • Project management
  • Project performance


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