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Empathy vs. sympathy, and how it affects you

Posted at 3:02 PM, Nov 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-07 17:02:59-05

Can you pinpoint the difference between empathy and sympathy?  It's actually a big difference that can affect you and how you see and treat others.

Writer, Consultant and Speaker Ganel-Lyn Condie says knowing the difference is important.

She says empathy fuels connection.  Sympathy drives disconnection.  Think of it this way: putting yourself in someone else's shoes versus looking through the window at their shoes.

So how can you be more empathetic?  Condie says the main thing to do is listen.  Be careful not to try to problem solve or judge too quickly.  Try to connect with the other person's emotion with a time you have felt that emotion as well.  For example, maybe you don't have a chronic illness but you can relate to having the flu and what it would feel like to have it never go away.

Condie also recommends to remember when you were a teenager, that was probably a time when you felt like everything was going wrong.  She suggests to say something like "That is so hard when it feels like no matter what you do, you never feel better."   That's empathy.  Sympathy would be saying "I am sorry".

The goal is connecting - not fixing.  Connection comes when we are vulnerable.  Expressing empathy, Condie says, requires our own risking.  Sympathy is staying on your side of the fence and looking over to comment.  That doesn't require vulnerability.

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