During the Connections Conference I was lucky enough to attend a session called Redefining Empathy, and we sure did just that. Empathy is often confused with sympathy, yet these two words could not be more opposite. As Steely Pegg and Tim Popma, the session speakers, said “Empathy is not just a buzzword, it’s a way of living and leading.” Usually people view empathy through a one-dimensional lens but in reality vulnerability, courage, and being connected to a person are extremely powerful forces that create change within communities and relationships.
Empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
To feel pity on someone, sympathy, is not the same as understanding and sharing the same feelings, empathy, as someone else. People often think that they are being empathetic when they try to “one up” someone’s situation or tell them that things could be worse. Here is a video to explain the difference a little more:
This session helped me to understand how to be an empathetic leader and that it is okay to be vulnerable and open up. I have always been a very open person who likes to listen to people and comfort them, so being empathetic is in my nature. But often times people, even myself, will confuse empathy and sympathy. It is good to know the differences and when both are acceptable and when they are not.