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What is Empathy? How it's different than Sympathy?

5 min read

Sympathy vs. Empathy - Are they same or different?

Sympathy and empathy are the two most commonly confused words in the English language. Many people make mistakes in using them thinking they’re synonyms for each other. However, although they are related, there is a difference between the meaning of sympathy and empathy and how you use these two words. Let's understand.

Sympathy is sorrow, pity or compassion you experience for another person's hardship or misfortune. While empathy is bigger than sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand other people's emotions by putting yourself in their place.

Leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.John Maxwell

In this fast-paced corporate world, it's very important to have leaders who can interact with empathy. In the workplace, empathy plays a major role in showing deep respect for co-workers. As a leader of a small team or even a big organization, connecting with colleagues by understanding their feelings is very vital. An empathic leadership style can make everyone feel like a team and increase productivity, morale and loyalty.

Why does empathy matter in the workplace?

As leaders, our role is simple - deal empathetically with our team and watch them build a strong organization. When we try to understand our team, we can have a better idea of the challenges ahead of us.

  • As we won’t be blamed for our failures, empathy allows us to feel safe with our failures.

  • It encourages leaders to understand the root cause behind poor performance.

  • It allows leaders to help struggling employees who truly want to succeed.

Empathy plays a vital role in organizations that can help us deal with failures, poor performances and employees who truly want to exceed.

How to be more empathetic?

People develop empathy throughout their lifetime. So theoretically, the older you get, the more empathetic you become. Though it all depends on life events, family, friends, colleagues and most importantly on you. You can be more empathetic with intentional efforts as well. Let's see how you can do that.

  1. Be an active listener - Listen to other people with interest and genuine desire to understand their feelings and emotions. Do not judge them instead understand them. Repeat what they said in between to confirm your understanding of what they are saying. Don't interrupt though. Actively listening to others brings better bonding with them and stronger relationships.
  2. Share the fun moments - Empathy isn't just about sharing sadness. It's also applicable to happiness. When somebody shares good news or happy feelings, join in with them and cheer up. Be happy and show a lot of excitement instead of being neutral or shy.
  3. Learn the body language - Almost all human beings know a little to a lot about body language. Apart from verbal language, most communication happens with eyes, facial expressions and body language. You should pay attention to all non-verbal communication and that will help to understand the emotions of other people.
  4. Find what’s common - To connect with other people you need to find common ground. That you can talk, laugh or cry about to feel the connectedness. If you don’t find anything common then just see that the other person is a human too. Start from there.
  5. Be vulnerable - Try to open up with other people. Talk about what you don't know, where you need help, what makes you sad. Don't be masked all the time, be open and reveal your feelings to others to build a stronger empathetic relationship.

Empathy is communicating that incredible healing message of 'You're not alone.Brené Brown

As an empathetic leader, you are always with your team. You are with them in good times as well as bad times, to listen to them, to feel what they feel and to experience it all with them.

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