Sympathy vs. Empathy

Sympathy vs. Empathy

Ever wondered why you’re just not getting through to people? Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, you might be finding it hard to get results from others, find that people keep coming back to you with the same issues, and you just can’t seem to keep them accountable. This can be tracked back to how you react to others – with sympathy, or with empathy. And yes, there is a huge difference that can see you getting much better results out of your career and life.

On the surface, it may not seem like there is much difference between sympathy and empathy. However, it’s very important to differentiate between the two in order to harness their true worth in your workplace.

What is sympathy?

Sympathy is a feeling of pity or sadness for someone, often due to a misfortune that has happened in their life or due to something that has stopped them from achieving a goal or deadline.

When you show sympathy towards another person, you can often become entwined in their ongoing life problems and issues. You can sometimes sympathise with them too much, which can lead to negative effects. The other persons emotions, be they a friend, employee, or colleague, can determine your own emotions towards the situation, and you can both wind up feeling misery or hitting a dead end.

For example the person, or employee, you are sympathising with may not be able to move forward with their issues. As a result, you can also become a victim, as you will subconsciously take on his or her problems, searching for someone to rectify the issue at hand.

If you show too much sympathy for an individual, you can also find yourself becoming resentful to them as they will keep leaning on you to solve their problems, instead of being proactive and seeking to rectify the issues on their own. Sympathy can also cause the other person to feel inferior or disempowered due to your feelings.

What is empathy?

Unlike sympathy, empathy means that you care about yourself and the other person equally, and respect both of your feelings and views. When you show empathy to someone, you are acknowledging that you understand their problems and issues, though you refuse to become involved in their story, as it’s not in their best interests.

When you express empathy towards someone, you are not letting the emotions stop the conversation that needs to be had or stop the actions that need to be taken to fix the problem. This gives the other person an opportunity to change the situation.

Empathy is commonly associated with the phrase ‘tough love’ as you acknowledge the issues at hand, though you assist the other person to move forward in a positive way by telling them it is not acceptable to dwell on the situation or look for someone else to solve their problems.

Expressing empathy means reflecting the persons feelings back to them and showing them you understanding where they are coming from. However, you will also be empowering them through your feelings of not feeling sorry for them, and reaching a proactive solution.

How we can use empathy to become a successful leader?

As a successful leader, it’s important to show empathy towards your colleagues and employees by understanding the various problems they may be facing on a day-to-day basis, whilst also making sure not to become directly involved in their issues.

It’s important to help someone overcome their emotional state by holding them up against their problems so they can solve it on their own. Empathy shows you care about them and yourself, whilst sympathy simply expresses feelings of regret for their situation. If you attempt to solve the person’s problem on your own, you fall into the trap of being sympathetic, which will cause you to fall victim to their issues, leaving them unresolved.

Once you clearly understand how to appropriately covey empathy to your colleagues and employees alike, a level of mutual respect will be established as you are making a conscious effort to care about yourself and the other person equally.

At Integrity and Values, we can clearly demonstrate how to show empathy in an appropriate manner to colleagues and employees, which gives you the tools to cultivate respectful relationships within your workplace as a successful leader. If you would like further information on how to be a successful leader through using empathy in your workplace, contact Integrity and Values today on (02) 9667 1277 or at

Leadership insights and event invitations for visionary leaders

You may also like...