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Rob and Tom - Part - 3

Rob: Tom, there has been something on my mind as I have studied servant leadership. It is empathy. I am trying hard to hard to understand how young people such as myself with limited life experience can show empathy in more than a narrow set of circumstances. The definition of empathy being “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.”

Tom: You are really going to put me through my paces with this one. So many young people in a leadership position misunderstand empathy and sympathy, then burn themselves out emotionally. The first thing I want you to do is look up the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Rob: If I distill the two into one sentence, it would be, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, while sympathy is the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. There is definitely a difference.

Tom: Which do you think most people use? When I envision empathy and sympathy, I think of the following.

Empathy: When seeing a coworker in emotional distress at their desk, I get on their level by pulling up a chair, sitting down and asking if I can be of help. In other putting myself on their level regardless of the situation. I let them talk and do not interrupt.

Sympathy: When seeing a coworker in emotional distress at their desk, I stand there and ask what is wrong. Upon hearing their dilemma, I give my this is what you need to do and say things will get better and walk away.

Which method can actually make the person feel worse? All you have to do is look at your own life experience to find the answer.

Rob: Sympathy can make you feel like the other person is looking down on you. It is easy to feel you are being judged.

Tom: In my opinion, empathy is connecting and sharing through communication. You are not taking on their burden; you are helping them unload their burden. Most people don’t want others to solve their problems they just want to release the mental stress they are feeling. Whether they admit it, everyone gets to where feeling safe to share and internal stress is needed.

Rob: I get that.


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