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Sympathy vs Empathy

By Jillian Broaddus and Chuck Cusumano


Effect and affect, “could care less” and “couldn’t care less,” i.e. and e.g., empathy and sympathy – just a few examples of words and phrases that are all used interchangeably – and incorrectly so – in language today.


As leaders, as sales professionals, and as basic human beings striving to form bonds with one another, it is vital that we differentiate between the last two sentiments in this list: empathy and sympathy.


Dr. Brené Brown – research professor and Ted Talker who has spent decades studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame – distinguishes the two with this bold assertion: “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”


To put it simply, while sympathy involves feeling compassion, pity, or sorrow for someone experiencing hardship, empathy involves a deeper form of relatability and connection. Brown goes on to outline four key steps to demonstrating empathy:

  1. Perspective Taking, or putting yourself in someone else’s shoes

  2. Reserving judgment and simply listening

  3. Recognizing another’s emotions that you have perhaps felt before

  4. Communicating your recognition of that emotion

At the end of the day, empathy is a choice, and – as Brown puts it – “a vulnerable one.” It requires recognizing another’s adverse feelings (be it annoyance, grief, anxiety, or confusion) and adopting their perspective. However, in doing so and making this vulnerable choice, empathy can provide a source of solace to whoever you may be dealing with; after all, people oftentimes aren’t looking for a solution to their problem, but rather are seeking connection. And by choosing empathy over sympathy, you set the stage for a long-term connection!


Learn more HERE.

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