We’ve previously discussed the importance of Empathy. I’ve always loved Zig Ziglar’s explanation regarding the difference between empathy and sympathy. Briefly, with empathy, while you feel for the other, you are still able to be part of the solution and help. With sympathy, you identify so strongly that you become part of the problem and are not able to help.
I was reminded of another significant difference between the two while re-reading a passage in Tim Sanders‘ excellent book, The Likability Factor. Tim points out a significant difference between the two in terms of focus:
“If you are sympathetic to others, your heart goes out to them and you feel compassion, but these are your feelings. You don’t know what they’re feeling. You’re not trying to know. You’re simply feeling bad that others feel bad (or lonely, or depressed, or angry).
“If you are empathetic to others, however, you are not merely feeling sorry for them but are projecting yourself into their hearts, as though you are sensing what it’s like to be in their shoes.”
As I like to say, Wowee Wow!
In other words, sympathy is about you, while empathy is about them.
So, while sympathy is certainly admirable, it’s not necessarily where the focus should be. If we truly want to provide value to the other person, empathy is much more productive because it means our focus is on them. And, that’s where it should be.
How do you do in the area of empathy versus sympathy? Could Tim‘s wise words serve as a trigger to you in future situations to perhaps shift your focus? I know it will for me.