The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy

Knowing what you know about yourself, pause and ask yourself ‘What is needed Now?’ Do you sense that you or others are in need of greater connection? If so, start building your Empathy capacity. It’s like a muscle – the more you become aware of it and exercise it the stronger and more conscious it becomes. You will begin to have a great impact on the people around you.


Many of us confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is feeling for a person, often with the intent of taking of the person or situation. Empathy is feeling with a person—an important distinction. When we are empathic, we put ourselves in others’ shoes and imagine the world from their perspective. We are responsible to them not for them.

Humans have an innate ability to do this. The mirror neurons in our brains pick up the conscious and unconscious cues of others. This triggers our own feelings and thoughts, allowing us to align with the other person. Our brain waves can actually sync.

Empathy is critical if you’re interested in building cultures of trust, influencing others, reaching mutually beneficial solutions, or building connection and influence. Members of high-performing teams consistently show high levels of empathy for one another. They care enough to ask:

What makes you who you are?
What do you really care about?


You Can Master Everyday Empathy

Authors Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar offer three key guidelines for everyday empathy in Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire (Gotham Books, 2004). The first guideline is to:

Learn what makes a person tick.
Make it a goal to find out more about people: what they like, dislike and are passionate about. The mere act of asking a question or two soothes the way for future conversations and collaboration. It doesn’t take much time, does not annoy anyone (unless done inappropriately) and can be fun. Of course, it is easier with people you like and more difficult with someone you dislike or mistrust. Try it with a wide range of people to see how asking questions improves communication.
While coaching my clients, we often discuss what is going on with the other person. How well you ask questions of others and really get to know the people you work with is a good indication of how much you engage in empathic conversations.

Learning more about the people you work with is key. It is not difficult and it does not take much time. How often do you start conversations to see, hear and appreciate people?

contact me, I’d love to hear from you. Or, let’s connect on LinkedIn.


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