“I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. What I want is for you to understand where I’m coming from and be able to relate to what I’m going through.”
Does that sound familiar? Everybody has had a discussion at one point or another about the delicate balance between sympathy and empathy. How can you tell the difference between the two? Simple, sympathy is easy. Empathy takes work. For example – hearing someone get yelled at can immediately make you feel sorry for that person. Don’t get me wrong – you’re happy that you aren’t the one getting in trouble [this time], but it’s easy to feel sorry for them. That’s the immediate, visceral reaction to someone else going through something. Feeling sorry for someone is sympathy and, for most people, is the most immediate reaction to someone going through a rough time.
However, empathy is different – it’s about relating. Rather than feeling sorry for someone, think back to a time you went through something similar and share your experience with them.
Now, here’s the thing – empathy isn’t only for the bad times – it can be applicable to any number of situations. It’s about being able to relate and share your experiences with someone that might be relevant rather than a particular emotion that someone else is going through invokes.
One of the best ways to hone your sense of empathy is repetition. After all, practice does make perfect. No matter what happens in your daily life, try to relate to the people that you interact with. Find a relatable story, remember how you felt at the time, and see if you can relate it back to the other person. Even if they aren’t looking for a solution to their problem, chances are your sense of understanding will help them move forward feeling as though they aren’t alone, or crazy.
The best part about empathy is its flexibility to work in both good and bad times – you’ll find yourself getting excited for someone else when they experience something positive because you know how it feels. Even if it’s not directly analogous, relating to the core concept of how they feel about something is a great way to showcase your support for someone.
People, in general, don’t want anyone to feel sorry for them; they want people to be able to relate. Both good and bad, through hard times and successes, in the workplace and in their home life, people like to feel as though they’re understood. Empathy is one of the best ways to convey that. So, get to work relating to people, practice it every day and, as always, keep Brewing Your Skill.