I’m at that age now, where I see my friends more often at their parents’ funerals, than at other social events.  I’m filled with many mixed emotions.  It’s confusing.  I’m not sure if I feel sorrow or if I feel sorry for them.  I go to the store and pick up a sympathy card, but I don’t see empathy cards.

Believe me, it is easy to confuse empathy with sympathy, but the concepts are different.

Empathy is the ability to re-create another person’s perspective, to experience the world from his or her point of view.  Empathy involves perspective-taking, the ability to take on the viewpoint of another person.  Paraphrasing improves understanding, but it’s more than a cognitive understanding.  Empathy also includes an affective dimension, meaning that we experience the same, or at least as close as possible, feelings that others have.  Empathy also includes a genuine concern for the welfare of the other person.

Sympathy on the other hand, is that you view the other person’s situation from your point of view.  When you sympathize, your feelings focus on the other person’s distress, pain, happiness, or relief.  So, you may feel sorry for them, but not to the level of feeling their anguish or joy.  However, when you empathize, the experience nearly becomes your own.

Empathy is also important in the workplace.  Emotional intelligence supported with empathy, provides a communication climate that supports better performance, increased job satisfaction, and decreased turnover.  Emotional intelligence with empathy plays a critical role in attracting, developing, and keeping good people.

Empathy is a powerful soft skill.  Be more effective at work by really trying to understand what people think and feel and empathizing with them.  It certainly will be interesting and enlightening.

Empathy takes a significant investment of energy and interest, but understanding others and empathizing with them, is an investment worth making.  If you have a genuine concern for the welfare of others, empathy will follow, and cohesiveness will flourish.

If you and your coworkers could benefit from an engaging presentation on emotional intelligence, contact me at kit@welchlin.com, and I will provide an interactive presentation that will enhance your emotional intelligence.