Empathy not Sympathy….. Is there a difference?
Yes, and it’s a big one in my view. Sympathy makes everything worse. Why?
Sympathy is about ‘fixing’ someone’s painful emotions. Actually, it does the opposite:
- It devalues someone’s emotional pain
- Makes them feel no one hears their voice
- Deflates them – it takes massive courage to overcome self stigma and ask for help
Empathy means ‘feeling with’ someone and is absolutely the right tool to use because:
- Enables the person to feel valued
- Shows the person their voice has been heard
- Feeling with someone enables them to identify their own solution – not your solution
- Creates a cohesive environment to build honesty, trust and confidence
- Empowers you as you see the positive impact made on the person that really helped them
In ‘Sympathy’ sentences usually begin with ‘at least…..’ or ‘I know exactly how you feel’. These and similar examples are completely unhelpful, shuts the conversation down and may prevent the person reaching out to get the help they need elsewhere.
The conversation’s spotlight should only be on them. You cannot know how they feel. Everyone’s experience of emotions are unique and individual.
Validation, identifying, collaboration – key elements of ‘Empathy’ that deliver a more positive outcome for all.
“That must feel overwhelming”. (validation) “I see your strength and courage sharing this with me “(identifying) “I’m here to listen to you. Can you tell me more about this? Maybe together we can consider some options?” (collaboration)
Next time someone shares their pain with you, remember how much courage and strength that took before answering with EMPATHY.