Why You Should Know the Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

Empathy is a powerful tool for leaders to use to build trust and connection. Sympathy has the opposite effect. Here’s how to discern the difference between the two.

Empathy and sympathy are both derived from the Greek term pathos, which means “experience, sorrow, or emotion.” They explain how we react to other people’s negative experiences.

People frequently mix up sympathy and empathy. Most people are unaware that they are two very different feelings and reactions. Of course, we feel empathy or sympathy when someone we know or love is in difficulty or experiencing a catastrophe, but we will feel either sympathy or empathy.

  • Sympathy is a sense of concern and caring for another person. Simply put, you don’t like it when they’re upset or sad, and you’d like to see them happy.
  • Empathy refers to the ability to understand another person’s feelings as though we were experiencing them ourselves.

Let’s see the difference between both: 

What is Sympathy?

The term “sympathy” is frequently used to describe sharing someone’s emotional distress. Inside condolence cards, you’ll find sympathy remarks.

Sympathy is what you feel when you feel bad for someone. You are saddened that they have suffered a catastrophe. These feelings can be directed at a single person or a group.

You don’t have to have had a bad experience to understand what I’m talking about. Even if you’ve never been in a comparable circumstance, you may sympathize with someone whose home has been burned down.

In the media, leaders frequently express their sympathies for disaster-stricken populations, such as:

  • War and conflict, including terrorist attacks;
  • Natural disasters such as flooding, wildfires, and extreme weather;
  • The destruction of important artifacts and buildings;
  • Deaths caused by accidents such as a bridge or building collapsing.

Examples of Sympathy

  • I was saddened to learn about Cathy’s husband’s death. My sympathies are with her;
  • We sympathize with the predicament of children who have been orphaned as a result of the war;
  • Brian has my condolences. He was laid off last month;
  • Our hearts break for the families who have lost loved ones as a result of the building’s collapse;
  • Following the fire at Notre Dame, we expressed our condolences to the French people.

What is Empathy?

Have you ever heard the phrase “putting oneself in another’s shoes”? Empathy is described in this language. It’s the ability to imagine oneself in someone else’s situation. A feeling of remoteness or apathy is the polar opposite of empathy.

You may believe you would react differently in the same situation, but you can understand why someone would feel that way. You might not have the same feelings as them, but you probably do.

Empathy, unlike compassion, is based on a shared experience, feeling, or emotion. It’s impossible to have empathy for someone whose situation you don’t understand.

Examples of Empathy

  • I know how it feels to lose a loved one after losing my mother to cancer last year;
  • It was also a hard experience for me to move employment without much time for a handover;
  • Because I work from home, I understand how lonely it may be after the kids have gone to school;
  • I can only image how terrifying that was when the fire spread;
  • I sympathize with the bereaved family.

Empathy in the Workplace

It’s vital for businesses to attract and train more talented managers and executives who can lead their organizations ahead in both good and bad times. This necessitates going beyond typical management development tactics and building the most crucial talents for success. One of those skills, somewhat unsurprisingly, is empathy, which is a critical leadership quality.

Empathetic leadership entails being able to recognize and understand others’ needs, as well as their feelings and thoughts. Unfortunately, as a performance indicator, it has long been overlooked as a soft skill.

Compassion and the ability to connect with others are essential skills in both our personal and professional life. Empathy in the workplace, which is a crucial component of emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness, improves human connections in general and can lead to more effective communication and beneficial outcomes in both the workplace and at home.

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