This Magic Monday, we look at the differences between empathy and sympathy and how we can feel with someone instead of for them.
Have you ever had one of those days? You know the one. Where everything just went wrong from the beginning, and then after bringing it up to a coworker, you received a sympathetic response: “You poor thing!” and it didn’t really make you feel better at all.
In her book Dare to Lead, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes, “Empathy is not connecting to an experience, it’s connecting to the emotions that underpin an experience. Empathy is feeling with people. Sympathy is feeling for them.” Sympathy responds, “I feel so sorry for you!” while empathy responds, “I understand that feeling, and it sucks.”
But what if you haven’t had that exact experience? Can you still provide the empathetic response that’s needed? Brown assures, “if you’ve ever felt grief, disappointment, shame, fear, loneliness, or anger, you’re qualified.”
While there is more to empathy than just the “right” phrases, a few that might help are:
- I’ve been in a similar place. It’s really hard
- I understand what that’s like
- I know how rough that is
- It is so hard when that happens.
In addition to these questions, it’s also important to remember people receive empathy differently. While eye contact might be important to one person, it may cause another to feel too self-conscious. Other actions such as a comforting hand on the shoulder or knowing when not to say anything and simply listen are other such skills you can develop. The most important thing is to listen, observe and learn, ensuring the recipient feels heard and supported in the way that means the most to them.
What are some ways you can work toward showing empathy to someone else this week?