Empathy vs. Sympathy vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

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Empathy vs. Sympathy vs. Compassion: What’s the Difference?

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We often hear empathy, sympathy, and compassion used interchangeably. In reality, these three terms have different meanings. It’s important to understand the differences between them to convey your thoughts and feelings with clarity. In this article, we will discuss the similarities and differences between empathy, sympathy, and compassion.

empathy sympathy compassion difference

Empathy vs. sympathy: what’s the difference?

In most cases, empathy gets confused with sympathy. Although these words are often used interchangeably, the distinction between them is important. The key difference between empathy and sympathy is that empathy is feeling along with another person, while sympathy is feeling sorry for someone.

Empathy means you feel what the other person feels. It’s putting yourself in their shoes and understanding their emotions and experience.

On the other hand, sympathy is when you feel pity for someone else. You see them in pain or discomfort, which makes you feel sorry for them.

Examples of empathy and sympathy at work

Example 1:

Your colleague is upset because she didn’t get the promotion she hoped for. You understand why this is so upsetting to your friend, and you can see how hard your friend worked on applying for the job.

With empathy, you can relate to what your friend is feeling. You see the situation from her perspective and share in her disappointment.

However, with sympathy, you do not feel what your colleague is feeling. Instead, you feel bad for her and think she has had a tough break.

Distinguishing empathy from compassion

Empathy and compassion are often confused as well. However, empathy is feeling along with another person. Compassion is feeling empathy, along with a desire to take action and help.

Example of compassion and empathy at work

Let’s look at empathy and compassion in action.

Your colleague is upset about not getting the promotion they were hoping for. You can feel empathy because you know what it feels like to be disappointed, but instead of feeling bad for him, you want to help them succeed or find another way to improve their situation.

This desire is called compassion; it incorporates empathy with a sense of wanting to act on that understanding and make things better for your coworker.

The differences between sympathy and compassion

Just like empathy and sympathy are different, so are sympathy and compassion. Sympathy refers primarily to feelings of pity toward someone who has experienced a misfortune, while compassion refers to feelings of wanting to take action and help the other person.

Empathy, sympathy, and compassion are all useful tools to have in your arsenal when it comes to your work. However, it’s important to understand the differences between them to use them in appropriate situations.

empathy sympathy compassion

When to use empathy in the workplace

#1. Building rapport with customers

If you’re trying to connect with someone, empathy is a great tool. Empathy allows you to see things from another person’s perspective and understand their emotions.

In a customer-facing role, this can be especially useful when trying to win over a customer. If you can show that you understand their needs and wants, they’re more likely to trust you and do business with you.

#2. Handling difficult conversations

Empathy can also help in difficult conversations. Let’s say you have to give someone negative feedback. If you can put yourself in their shoes and understand how they might feel, it will be easier for them to hear what you have to say. You’ll also be less likely to come across as confrontational or judgmental.

#3. Strengthening professional relationships

Empathy is also a great way to bond with coworkers. You can understand where your colleagues are coming from, which makes them feel understood and creates a sense of camaraderie.

When should compassion be used in the workplace?

#1. Leadership

Compassionate people are better leaders because they can motivate their employees and inspire them with a vision of working together toward a common goal. Compassionate leaders are also more likely to forgive mistakes, creating a more positive and productive work environment.

#2. Customer service

Compassion is an essential part of good customer service. When you’re compassionate, you take the time to understand the customer’s situation and needs. You then do your best to help them find a solution.

If everyone on your team is motivated by compassion, it can lead to better teamwork. Compassion gives people empathy for each other and encourages them to work together toward a common goal.

#3. Negotiations

Compassion is also useful in negotiations. When trying to reach an agreement with someone, it can be helpful to have compassion for their situation and understand what they’re going through. This will make them more likely to trust you and be willing to work with you to find a solution that works for both of you.

When is sympathy appropriate?

If you feel sorry for someone but can’t relate to their emotions, sympathy can be useful.

Sympathy is also helpful when you want to show that you care about someone without getting too emotionally involved. If you can offer them words of encouragement and let them know that you’re there for them, it can help them get through their difficult situation.

It’s also common to use sympathy for expressions of condolences. When someone has lost a loved one, it’s often comforting to know that others care and feel sorry for what they’re going through.

Empathy, sympathy, and compassion in communication

It’s important to be able to distinguish between these three terms because they have different implications in our lives and interactions with others. When we understand the differences between them, we can better communicate and build stronger relationships with colleagues and customers.

Recommended resources:

To learn more about empathy, check out the following articles:

5 Signs Your Colleagues Lack Empathy

Empathy Superpower: The Key to Success at Work

Empathy Burnout: Can Empathy Be Bad For Your Career?

Leading With Empathy: How Empathy Helps in Business

Empathy in Customer Service: Why It’s Important

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