Embrace Empathy

Lesson 2: Topic 19 of 21

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Responding … with sympathy puts you on an emotional roller coaster and can leave you worn out and frazzled at the end of the day. The trick is to be emotionally aware and sensitive without becoming too emotionally involved. When you respond with empathy, you stay calm and in control…. [it] allows you to be professional and caring at the same time.

Kristin Anderson & Ron Zemke

The distinction between sympathy and empathy is slim but vital. The Journal of the American Medical Association differentiates them this way: “The act or capacity of entering into or sharing the feelings of another is known as sympathy. Empathy, on the other hand, not only is an identification of sorts but also connotes an awareness of one’s separateness from the observed.” In other words, to empathize is to validate the other’s emotions without being caught up in those emotions yourself. 

To practice empathy (which can be learned, by the way; it’s not something you’re born with) you have to genuinely respect the other person. You don’t need to agree with the other person’s emotions or believe them to be logical, valid, or justifiable. They simply are. Nor do you need to be motivated or manipulated by that person’s feelings. 

What you must do is pay attention to the other person. Don’t look at your phone or paperwork while they speak (unless it’s to take notes). Be mindful of the person’s body language ― and your own. Set aside any urge to judge or critique and find a way to connect with the other person.