Sympathy vs Empathy and Which One Will Help You Be a Better Leader

three people comforting a colleague

Even though we all use the words sympathy and empathy, not many of us are actually aware of the exact differences between the two terms. To be fair, the differences are quite subtle, although they tend to make applying the concepts of sympathy and empathy in business somewhat confusing. Which quality is better for a leader? Today, we’re going to talk about sympathy vs empathy, highlighting their meaning and exploring which of these qualities you should strive for as a leader.

Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself. – Mohsin Hamid

What Is Sympathy?

Sympathy is acknowledging that someone is suffering or going through a tough time and understanding the position they’re in. A sympathetic person provides other people with support and tries to help them overcome whatever obstacle they’re facing. This person is understanding and caring, and sometimes engages with the situation. However, a sympathetic person doesn’t do more than that, meaning he or she doesn’t identify with the suffering of others. That means that sympathy doesn’t involve you feeling what the other person is feeling or experiencing distress at the thought of another’s suffering.

What Is Empathy?

Empathy can sometimes follow sympathy, but this is not necessarily the case. For instance, some people are never characterized by empathy, even if they have the ability to be sympathetic towards someone. The main difference between empathy and sympathy is that the former entails a more personal understanding of someone else’s suffering.

Oftentimes, we can empathize with someone simply because we’ve been in their position in the past and we know how difficult it is.  However, this is not the only reason why people are empathic. Some individuals are able to feel empathy just by imagining what others must be going through. Regardless of the reasons behind empathy, this emotion can sometimes cause people real pain or distress. It doesn’t matter if they’re personally exposed to a difficult situation or not.

Sympathy vs Empathy: Which One Is Better for a Leadership Position?

If you’ve ever been in a leadership position, then you’ve probably already guessed the answer to this question. Empathy is one of the most important qualities of a leader. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with feeling sympathetic towards your employees experiencing difficulties. However, if you want to be a truly exquisite leader, you’ll have to try to cultivate empathy.

Even if some people find it more difficult to be empathic than others, there are things that you can do to try and feel more empathy towards people you work with. First of all, the key is to put yourself in their shoes every single time. Don’t simply look at their issues from an outside perspective. Instead, think of what you would do if you were in their situation. Go even further and contemplate what you’d feel if people weren’t be able to empathize with what you’re going through. Never assume someone’s problems are not worth addressing before considering your attitude under the same circumstances.

We hope that today’s guide on sympathy vs empathy has helped you understand why you should strive to empathize more with your team members and their challenging experiences.

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Author: Amanda Knowles

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